Spotlighters' fast-paced cast has fun with "Three Men on a Horse"


Hilarious horseplay takes the stage in the Spotlighters slam-bang version of the 1935 farce, "Three Men on a Horse," by George Abbott and John Cecil Holm.

Running weekends through Feb. 2, this dandy old chestnut is true farce. It is simply good entertainment with no tiresome social undertones.

A nerdish greeting card verse writer named Erwin falls into the company of three Runyonesque gangster types whose sole occupation in life is betting on the daily horse races and choosing the wrong nags.

With a bit of unbelievable luck they discover Erwin, a gambler's dream who has the knack for predicting the winners of each day's races. He plays only for fun on paper. He is afraid if he places a bet he will lose his magic. And he turns out to be right.

Directed adroitly by Robert Bayer, the play takes off like a Three Stooges comedy and races (no pun intended) frenetically along to a breakneck finish.

The 1935 Broadway success was made into a hit movie starring Frank McHugh and Joan Blondell. Sam Levene repeated his stage role as the "brains" of the betting addicts.

In the play the nerd, Erwin, a meek, worried little soul overburdened with bills and underpaid by his niggardly boss, Mr. Carver, is facing the deadline for his Mother's Day copy.

Nagged by his wife and bullied by his overbearing brother-in-law, the oppressed Erwin takes the day off and decides to get drunk.

In the dim recesses of a seedy New Jersey bar, he runs into the "dese, dem and dose" guys who play him for all he is worth. They virtually keep him prisoner in the apartment above the saloon where he invokes the anger of the intimidating leader of the motley trio, a tough mug known (for some unexplained reason) as Patsy.

Erwin is caught in innocent but unclothed circumstances with Patsy's main squeeze, a spacey but loveable bespectacled named Mabel. As the complications mount so do the laughs.

The timing, pace, interaction and very funny shtick in the Spotlighters production is excellent. The only real distraction is the unnecessary slow set changes between scenes, which should be done fast in keeping with the speedy rhythm of the play.

Patrick Martyn shines as the bespectacled Erwin who learns a lot about the world through the wheeling-and-dealing machinations of his shady friends. Martyn's bucktoothed, foolish rabbit grin and comical ingratiating manner is wonderful to behold. His is a practically flawless performance.

Director Robert Bayer is a riot as the tough, but paranoid Patsy who still manages to convey an endearing childlike quality. Both Jon Lipitz and Anthony C. Hayes lend outstanding support as Patsy's big, dull-witted henchmen.

Darlene Deardorff delights as the dumb floozie yearning for a little house with ruffled curtains.

Joe Heidelmaier is an amusingly dotty Carver and Laura Gifford as Erwin's well-intentioned wife turns in a fine performance.

Michael O'Connell as the bossy brother-in-law and Charlie Meyer as Harry the bartender both need to quicken their comedic timing and delivery to keep up with the skill of the other players.


Noteworthy . . .

The run of "Bernie's Bar Mitzvah," an entertaining parody on Jewish life playing at the Fell's Point Cabaret Theatre at 723 S. Broadway on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, has been extended to March 1.

At the close of the Baltimore run, producer Howard Perloff will take the show and most of the Baltimore cast to the West Side Supper Club in Manhattan for a March 4 opening.

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