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By Richard Bean

Circle Theatre

Directed by Joel Ferrell
Stage Manager – Elizabeth Stevens
Assistant Director – Mike Baughman
Lighting Design – Aaron Johansen
Set Design – Bob Lavallee
Sound Design – Brian McDonald
Costume Design – Murell Horton
Costume Design Assistant – Barbara Proska
Props Design – Kaitlin Hatton
Dialect Coach – Emily Gray
Fight Captain – Parker Gray

Rachel Crabbe – Jenna Anderson
Charlie “The Duck” Clench – John Davis
Lloyd Boateng – Lee George
Francis Henshall – Matthew Gray
Alan Dangle/Alfie – Parker Gray
Pauline Clench – Nicole Renee Johnson
Dolly – Lauren LeBlanc
Stanley Stubbers – John-Michael Marrs
Harry Dangle/Gareth – Ben Phillips

Reviewed Performance: 2/1/2020

Reviewed by Chris Hauge, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

In Circle Theatre’s Production of “One Man, Two Guvnors”, we are given the gift of ‘low’ humor in its highest form. And it is wonderful! Director Joel Ferrell has brilliantly led a super talented cast through this epitome of controlled chaos. The result is a night of non-stop mayhem and uproarious laughter. This play definitely needs to be on your must-see list.

Richard Bean’s script is a loose adaptation of a 1743 Commedia dell’arte style comedy by Carlo Goldoni titled “The Servant of Two Masters”. As is the norm for this style of theatre, there are stock characters such as the young lovers or the old man or the wily servant. The structure of these types of plays is usually a group of scenarios which allow the actors plenty of room for verbal and physical improvisation. There is also ample opportunity for the actors to break ‘the fourth wall’ and interact with the audience.

Playwright Bean has moved the action from the streets of Italy to Brighton, England in 1963. The set, designed by Bob Lavallee, is covered from pillar to floor with advertisements touting the musical entertainment to be had in this seaside resort town. In this setting, we meet our wily servant, Francis Henshall (Matthew Gray). Actually, we meet him before the play begins as Francis delivers the prerequisite curtain speech about season tickets and silencing cell phones. Francis is unemployed and wildly hungry. His luck turns when he is employed by two people. One, a low-level gangster named Roscoe Crabbe who is rumored to be dead, and the other is Stanley Stubbers (John-Michael Mars), the lover of Roscoe’s sister Rachel (Jenna Anderson), who finds himself running from the law for the murder of Roscoe. It turns out that Rachel is pretending to be Roscoe in order to get money from another gangster, Charlie “The Duck” Clench (John Davis) so she can flee the country with her true love. And Francis is not the most reliable of servants. He is easily confused and consumed with attaining his own desires-food and the romantic pursuit of Dolly (Lauren LeBlanc), Charlie Clench’s bookkeeper.

What follows is a frantic romp, complete with mistaken identities, misplaced letters, cross-dressing, and lots of incredible physical comedy. We follow Francis as he lies and bumbles his way through the play and takes the audience with him. He talks to the crowd constantly, letting us know his insecurities and commenting on everything from bad parenting to the Fort Worth Stock Show, and even gives advice about not having a first date at the theatre. We are privy to his machinations throughout the show and it is a delight watching this lying dunderhead put one over on his masters, who seem even more confused than he is.

The set by Bob Lavallee is key to the play and is almost a character itself. We see a series of panels which are moved by the actors to transport us to the various settings. Director Ferrell has choreographed the set changes, so they reflect the madcap atmosphere of the rest of the show. The actors and stagehands spin walls and carry tables, plants, rugs, and probably parts of the kitchen sink on and off the stage, arguing with each other the whole time. This enables a crisp flow to the action and maintains the feeling of barely contained anarchy that makes this production such a joy to watch.

The lighting by Aaron Johansen playfully enhances the action, especially the sharp blackouts at the set changes, timed to door slams. Murell Horton’s costumes artfully take us back to early 1960’s England. Prop designer Kaitlin Hatton has created a grand array of items, including a crown roast of lamb that I found impressive. I must also commend dialect coach Emily Gray for her work with the cast. The dialects of the entire cast were authentic and consistent throughout the night.

Matthew Gray is the star of the show as Francis Henshall, and Mr. Gray throws himself, literally at times, totally into the role. The character of Francis is our narrator and guide and Matthew Gray gives him an ease and likability that endears him to the audience. And he does not shy away from showing us all of Francis’ neurotic quirks as the character bumbles his way toward his goals. Mr. Gray’s comfort on stage makes it hard to know when he is on script and when he is improvising. He is also a gifted physical comedian and seems to be afraid of nothing when it comes to pratfalls. He is a joy to watch.

In the dual roles of Roscoe and Rachel, Jenna Anderson shines. She is properly gruff as Roscoe, strutting like a cockerel as she interacts with people who don’t seem to notice that he is a she. Her Rachel is winning and clearly shows us a woman who is deeply and madly in love. As her love interest, Stanley Stubbers, John-Michael Marrs gives us a wonderfully stuffy Englishman. He may be running from the law, but things must be done properly. Mr. Marrs and Ms. Anderson have a great chemistry together and both of them have really good comic timing.

John Davis plays Charlie “The Duck” Clench with a combination of toughness and cluelessness that is fun to watch, especially when he tries to grasp the concept of identical twins. As Charlie’s daughter Pauline, Nicole Renee Johnson is delightfully naïve and dense. Her fiancé, Alan Dangle, an aspiring actor who punctuates every moment with drama, is played with gusto by Parker Gray. Parker also plays an ancient waiter with a pacemaker, Alfie, with a shuffling walk and a comic fearlessness that is hilarious to watch.

Lauren LeBlanc plays the tightly clad Dolly with wit and strength. Dolly is the picture of the new woman of the sixties, showing the sprouting of feminism. She’s not afraid of flaunting her sexuality but things will go her way. Ms. LeBlanc seems to be having a great time with the role. Lee George is the pub owner and chef Lloyd Boateng and Mr. George get lots of laughs from well-timed prison references. Ben Phillips does double duty as attorney and Alan’s father Harry Dangle, as well as the stoic waiter Gareth. Mr. Phillips is a solid presence and makes the most of every minute of stage time he gets.

Most of all, I want to applaud the dedication and commitment of the entire cast and crew. The amount of energy and timing needed to pull off a production of this kind is huge. Everyone gave one hundred percent to the proceedings and the result is a comic tour de force. My wife and I had a wonderful time and our ribs are still aching from laughing so much. Thank you.

To all of you reading this, face it, this is a stressful time for all of us. What better way to put your worries behind you than to spend a couple of hours laughing your head or any other part of your anatomy off. As I said at the beginning, this is ‘low’ comedy in its highest form. It’s at Circle Theatre. It’s wonderful. Please check it out.

Circle Theatre
January 30 – March 7, 2020
Thursday – 7:30PM
Friday & Saturday – 8:00PM
Saturday – 3:00PM
230 West 4th Street
Fort Worth, Texas 76102
For ticket and more information call 817-877-3040
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