Regional Theater Review: ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS (South Coast Rep in Costa Mesa)

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by Tony Frankel on September 20, 2015

in Theater-Regional


When the National Theatre of Great Britain produced One Man, Two Guvnors, playwright Richard Bean’s 2011 update of Carlo Goldoni’s 18th Century comedy, The Servant of Two Masters, the razor-sharp ensemble under Nicholas Hytner’s direction paved the way for a star turn by James Cordon, who played Francis, a daft dolt who finds himself minding after two bosses amongst the swinging ’60s seaside resort of Brighton. The eternally ravenous fellow must ceaselessly dodge pandemonium or experience the ire of Rachel Crabbe, who is impersonating her dead gay brother, and handsome Stanley Stubbers, the posh upper-class con man she loves.

William Connell and Dan Donohue in ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS by Richa

Now in a co-production with Berkeley Rep, this silly, amusing, escapist rib-tickler arrives at South Coast Rep not as the gut-wrenching, crisply paced world of constant comedy, where every laugh is grounded in truth, but as the longest The Carol Burnett Show sketch on record. What that means is the show becomes a servant of two styles: there’s the madcap homage to physical comedy that bounces from chortles to groaners with screwball flamboyance; and then there’s the cheap shtick that doesn’t always take off. But as distractions go, one could fare far worse.

Marcus Högsta, John-David Keller, Brad Culver and Casey Hurt in

The Goldoni play is classic commedia dell’arte, employing low comedy and traditional comic archetypes, including stupid masters, cunning servants, star-crossed lovers, sexy maids, feisty daughters, and miserly fathers. Commedia dell’arte is also known for its lazzi, comic set-pieces (improvised comic dialogue or action). With a confident comic touch, Bean follows Goldoni’s plot, but he cleverly breaks free when adapting his own comic dialogue and puts it in a colloquial vernacular. Respectful of his source material, he never misses an opportunity to position a joke, heighten a character’s shortcoming, or play off the audience’s knowledge of life beyond the 1960s. But as with another British farce, Michael Frayn’s Noises Off (1982), what can often be smart, charming and uproarious on paper, isn’t always a howler on stage.

Becca Lustgarten, Sarah Moser, Dan Donohue and Claire Warden in

Francis Henshall, an update of Goldoni’s Harlequin, is played here by Dan Donohue. Whether it’s manipulating to get food, money, or sex to satisfy the urge of the moment, the pleasurable Donohue certainly knows how to work the room, which includes the entire SCR auditorium. Breaking the fourth wall, his interactions with audience members are played seamlessly, subtly remaining a variation of the amiable character he plays in the scene. As with the Burnett players, it is usually clear where Bean’s text ends and Donohue’s improvisation begins.

Claire Warden, Helen Sadler and Sarah Moser in ​One Man, Two Guvnors by Richard Bean, with music by Grant Olding and directed by David Ivers. Photo courtesy of

Director David Ivers has assembled some of the best clowns working on stage today, many being West Coast fixtures in the Bay Area and Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Dashing, wealthy, and perverse Stanley Stubbers is winningly played by William Connell, and diminutive Helen Sadler plays both twins with equal gusto, fierce and threatening as the gay brother, tender and committed as her straight self. Sarah Moser gives us a dim ingénue in Pauline Clench, a pretty little picnic shy of a few sandwiches. No matter, she is destined to pair up with Alan Dangle, narcissistic actor wannabe, played to perfection by Brad Culver, all black turtle necks and Hamlet-y angst, a perfect fit of cluelessness for Moser’s ditsy Pauline.

The onstage band, The Craze, featureing Marcus Högsta, Mike McGraw in ​One Man, Two Guvnors by Richard Bean, with music by Grant Olding and directed by David Ivers. Photo courtesy of

Claire Warden plays the sexy, curvy secretary—and Henshall’s love interest—Dolly as the smartest person in the room, except when it comes to matters of love. Louis Lotorto plays Alfie, the new but very old waiter, a performance of pratfalls in the vein of Tim Conway. And one of my very favorite actors, Danny Scheie, is uproarious in a pre-curtain speech and as a head waiter at the only pub in town that serves food.

Dan Donohue in ​One Man, Two Guvnors by Richard Bean, with music by Grant Olding and directed by David Ivers. Photo courtesy of mellopix.comThe design team has a consistent eye on fun. Hugh Landwehr’s sets and Alexander V. Nichols’ lights pop with the color and snap of ‘60’s cool. In the original version, Hytner wisely knew that Bean’s world demanded some form of music to take it to a higher level. Thus, Grant Olding’s songs are used as the mortar that frames the piece and holds it together. As the audience gathers at the top of the show, we are primed with a set of early boy band rock ‘n roll songs (from Rockabilly to Liverpool), played by The Craze—Casey Hurt, Mike McGraw, Marcus Högsta, and Andrew Niven. The concert continues between set changes, rarely illuminating a character or elucidating a theme, but always entertaining and delighting (you can also see these stellar musicians play outside after the show). Ultimately, the gestalt of this production is a feeling that we’ve attended a diverting and often fun party, peopled with fabulously zany folks. While not the laugh-riot it could be, it’s a perfectly suitable antidote to sooth your worries.

photos courtesy of

One Man, Two Guvnors
South Coast Repertory
co-produced with Berkeley Repertory Theatre
655 Town Center Drive in Costa Mesa
ends on October 11, 2015
for tickets, call 714.708.5555 visit

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