Young Folks' Farce

Arizona Reperatory Theatre's "Lend Me a Tenor" is full of silliness and spirit

If I were given a choice between watching a hideously self-important rendition of  Sam Beckett's "Krapp's Last Tape" and a farce like "Lend Me a Tenor," I would probably choose the farce. But I would be tempted to take the Krapp.

But that's just me.

You shouldn't be tempted to miss the frantic, festive, and foolish "Lend Me a Tenor" opening the Arizona Repertory Theatre's (at the University of Arizona) new season. 

Ken Ludwig's play is given a cheerfully chipper spin by the school's acting students directed by Associate Professor David Morden, who has executed a variety of feats at the Rogue Theatre.  It's good to see him spreading his knowledge and experience around the halls of academia.

Farce is a particularly demanding style of theater, and a student shouldn't graduate without a baptism into the genre. A stage-full of character specific physical movements and near stunt-like high jinks must be meticulously married to good-natured (even if they are really meanies), energetic characters who can pretty much define themselves on a dime (and with the aid of an astute costume designer.)  It's hard to do really silly stuff without going too far one way or another, and it must be done with a totally in-sync collective spirit.

These young folks do really well.

The story, set in 1934, involves the much ballyhooed arrival of the world's greatest tenor, Tito Morelli (David Hentz), who is scheduled to appear with the Cleveland Opera in Verdi's "Otello." Self important and high strung opera chief Saunders (Sterling Boyns,) father of star-struck ingénue Maggie (Kierna Connor) is waiting for the tenor to make it to the hotel where he is to stay. (Hotel suites often figure into farces, because they have lots of doors.) Young Max (Brian Klimowski) pines for Maggie as he also awaits the arrival of Mr. Opera, hanging around to expedite things. Much is at stake if you're an opera lover in Cleveland, and we happen to discover that although Max may be a bit clumsy, he's got a pretty good voice himself. There are many complications, especially when Mr. Opera does appear with his wife, has a stomach ache which requires pills he doesn't want to take, but others conspire to make him take, and lies down to take a nap. Or, does he die?  And what happens when he's due to be onstage?  Care to guess? Bet you'd be right.

Considering the number of characters and the traffic direction that Morden has to design (I wonder if there's an app for that) and his minions have to negotiate, it's a pretty skillfully executed ordeal providing lots of fun.  The actors do well, although there is just a bit of the unevenness one anticipates in even a very good student production.

Costumer Emma Smith-Siegert does a great job, as does the other designers, except for set designer M Erdman.  What was she, along with Morden, thinking? Overall the set is serviceable but nothing special. Then, there is a huge-HUGE-moose head mounted to the wall which oversees everything.  To what purpose? He tells us to turn off our cell phones—but why spend the energy and bucks to create a massive thing that calls attention to itself throughout the play but serves no purpose within the piece?  Every aspect of a design (or choice made by a director or an actor) needs to be purposeful, or it shouldn't exist.  And since the moose gives a pre-show speech, and thus we know he can be animated, we keep expecting him to do something else.  Distracting. Useless. Aggravating. 

The show seems a bit long—that sort of comes with the territory of farce because so much in the first act doesn't have much humorous payoff, but must establish the lay of the lunatic land.  Overall ART's "Lend Me a Tenor" is a silly and entertaining event.

But that damn moose . . .

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