Sunday, March 3, 2013

Theater Review: His Girl Friday -- CT Rep

Olivia Saccomanno flanked on her right by Kevin Crouch and Christopher Hirsh. Photo by Bob Copley.
Read All About It! Staged Edition of Screwball Comedy Unfolds at UConn
By Lauren Yarger
Love in the newsroom, corrupt politics and a murder trial combine for screwball comedy in His Girl Friday over at Connecticut Repertory’s Nafe Katter Theatre on the UConn campus.

Dale AJ Rose directs a colossal, mostly non-Equity cast in the stage adaptation by John Guare combining elements from the film of the same name, starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell, and the play The Front Page by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur.

It’s 1939 Chicago. The scene: the press room of the criminal court building where newspaper reporters Mike Endicott (Adam Schneeman) of the Daily News, Ernie Kruger (Will Haden) of the Journal, Buddy “Mac” McCue (Ryan Marcone) of the Times, Eddie Schwartz (Michael John Improta) of the Herald, Jaclyn Wilson (a feminization of the name for the male role played by Sarah Wintermeyer) of the Sun, Ralph Sweeney of the Daily Record pass the time playing cards, teasing German-speaking court cop Woodenshoes (Andrea Payne) and waiting for the next big scoop while uppity Roy V. Bensinger (James Belkin) of the Tribune keeps them away from his coveted roll-top desk.

Former Chicago Daily record ace reporter Hildy Johnson (Olivia Saccomanno) drops in to tell the boys she is engaged to insurance salesman Bruce Baldwin (Kevin Crouch) and is leaving that night with him and his smothering mother (Penny Benson) on a train to a new life in Albany. Her ex-husband, Walter Burns (Christopher Hirsh), editor of the Record, has other plans, however. He wants her to cover the execution of convicted cop killer Earl Holub (Darek Burkowski), who is scheduled to be hanged in the morning and urges criminal Diamond Louis (Colby Lewis) to keep Bruce and his mother in trouble with the cops and out of Hildy’s way.

Hildy scores an interview with prostitute Mollie Malloy (Khetanya Henderson) who believes Holub is innocent. He claims he was framed by Chicago’s political machine: the Mayor (Anthony J. Goes) and Sheriff Percival B. Hartman (Thomas Brazzle). It seems likely when they conspire to keep Floyd Pinkus (Gabriel Aprea) from delivering the governor’s reprieve for Holub.

Highlighting the production is Crouch’s portrayal of Hildy’s naïve, hapless fiancé, complete with a high-pitched, nerdy laugh. Sharp movement coaching by Choreographer Marie Boyette creates some physical comedy and first-time-out Set Designer Posy Knight scores a knockout with a two-level, amazingly detailed press room, complete with stained glass windows, marble floors and set parts that get blown away in gunfire. Bringing a well deserved chuckle from audience members is Mrs. Baldwin’s ridiculously tacky fur purse with four dangling rabbit feet (Christina Ostner designs the period costumes).

The script, not as entertaining as the movie, drags, however, as does the pace making it impossible for the production to achieve the rapid-fire, screwball type banter we expect. Saccomanno isn’t comfortable in Hildy’s skin (and doesn’t know how to use her old-time, but post-1939, I suspect, upright model typewriter) while Hirsh delivers most of his lines in a steady shout. They never develop a rapport.

His Girl Friday plays at the Nafe Katter Theatre on the UConn campus in Storrs through March 10. Performances are Wednesday and Thursday, 7:30 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm. Tickets $6-$30; (860) 486-2113;

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)
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