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'Moon' shines brightly on Bowie Playhouse stage

Master playwright Ken Ludwig set the play "Moon Over Buffalo" in 1953, a time when struggling veteran actors George and Charlotte Hay are alternately performing "Cyrano de Bergerac" and Noel Coward's "Private Lives" at Buffalo's shabby Erlanger Theatre.

The decidedly un-shabby Bowie Playhouse is the current home for Prince George's Little Theatre's bright production of "Moon Over Buffalo," running through Feb. 16.

In this work, Ludwig creates sturdy plots featuring mistaken identities and frantic characters who run into and away from one another's complaints, slamming doors as they go.

The plot centers on George and Charlotte, former theater headliners who are now broke in Buffalo, with unpaid actors leaving their troupe. Amid their problems, they learn that film director Frank Capra is coming to Buffalo to catch their performance — and perhaps offer them jobs.

But George could miss this last chance at stardom due to complications that include a drinking problem, jealous wife Charlotte, his own attraction to young actresses, and a hearing-impaired, sharp-tongued mother-in-law Ethel, who also happens to be his theater manager.

The problems increase when the couple's daughter, Rosalind, arrives to announce she has quit acting for a normal life with TV weatherman and boyfriend Howard, thus abandoning her career and her former lover Paul, a fellow actor who has remained with her parents' theater company.

The mix of distractions compound George's perennial confusion over what role he's playing — Noel Coward's debonair hero or Cyrano — resulting in frequent changes of costume, each time bringing his clothing, and himself, to a greater state of disrepair.

Affirming the "show must go on" tradition, the Prince George's Little Theater cast and crew offer a production that overcomes an enormous obstacle: The show is dedicated in memory of Norm Gleichman, who had been slated to play the lead role of George Hay but who died in an accident Jan. 11 while vacationing in Mexico.

PGLT producer William Powell Jr. tapped actor Sandy Irving to play the part of George, and he steps up to embrace the role.

As the stressed theater company manager, Irving summons great comic skill to appear hopelessly drunk, growing funnier as he gulps spiked coffee to "sober up" for a scene. He then rises to hysterical heights as his Cyrano intrudes on the romantic "Private Lives" balcony scene.

Director Ann Lowe-Barrett has a cast of mixed experience — a few actors are making their PGLT debut, while others are more seasoned players. After an understandably slow start, in view of early difficulties, the actors create memorable characters struggling with all manner of detours on the road to fame and fortune, coaxing laughs that begin with giggles and later become roaring gales.

The stage crew deserves credit for its expertise in strategically placing doors to be slammed with forceful effect at frantic arrivals and departures, hitting comic notes in every scene.

Helping create the pandemonium is PGLT veteran Millie Ferrara as Ethel, whose hostility toward son-in-law George amuses as she manages to best him in every argument.

Totally believable as Charlotte, Barbara Lambert makes a shining PGLT debut that reflects her impressive credits with various other theatrical troupes. Also debuting with the company, Tiffany Yancey brings spice to young actress Eileen, summoning instant distress and comedic skill for maximum effect.

As business manager and Charlotte's perennial suitor Richard Maynard, PGLT veteran Keith Brown adds substance and wry comedy to his characterization.

After playing Meg in last season's "Crimes of the Heart," Caity Brown returns to PGLT to play daughter Rosalind and displays comedic talent as the frantic actress in the stellar balcony scene.

Brian McDermott is so appealing as actor Paul that we know Rosalind will find him irresistible, and Donny Singh-Perry meets all challenges of playing mistaken-identity victim Howard, whom Charlotte mistakes for director Frank Capra and George mistakes for an arresting officer when he is costumed as Gen. George Patton.

Prince George's Little Theater's production of "Moon Over Buffalo" continues weekends through Feb. 16 at Bowie Playhouse, 16500 White Marsh Park Drive, Bowie. Showtimes are 8 p.m. on Feb. 8, 9 and 15; and 2 p.m. on Feb. 10 and 16. Tickets are $20 for adults and $15 for seniors and those 18 and under. To order, call 301-937-7458 go to http://www.PGLT.org.

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