The newest production at Omaha Community Playhouse, One Man, Two Guvnors is based on a form of theatre called Commedia Dell’Arte, which was a theatre that focused on improvised physical comedy. In fact, the play’s original script was written in the middle of the 18th century by an Italian author who specifically wrote it for that type of theatre. This adaptation was written and first produced in 2011. Because of that rich history of physical comedy this play is slapstick, farce, rude, funny, crude, and, most importantly, fun.
The play is about a man who becomes the bodyguard/manservant of a small time gangster. Then he also becomes the bodyguard/manservant of the gangster’s boyfriend. All of the sudden he is trying to serve two guvnors all the while not letting the other one know. There are cases of mistaken identity, people dressed up as other people,heartache, death, melodrama, and, of course, food. (You should bring a sandwich to this show. Don’t ask why; just do it.) The script is actually a bit striking in its similarity to many of Shakespeare’s comedies with characters getting mixed up, feelings getting confused, and lovers falling in and out of quarrels. Everything would be fixed if people just took the time to talk rationally! Of course this connection to the style and feel of Shakespeare makes sense, when you realize that the play has been adapted from the 18th century Italian script. All of those pieces are classic tropes of early modern theatre.
In this production, Anthony “CK’ Clark-Kaczmarek, the director, has put together a play that captures the beauty of bodies in space. Each character fills up the stage in a way that is physically interesting. Very few of them just stand there. They slouch, they crouch, they move their arms, they invade other character’s spaces, they fall down, and they get back up. This is best shown by Steve Krambeck as Francis Henshall. The role of Henshall became well known when it was played by James Corden in 2011/2012. Corden even won a Tony for playing this role. Like many plays that start with someone famous, it’s hard to imagine the role with someone else in it, but Krambeck quickly erases any memory of Corden. He masterfully moves through each comedic element, skillfully breaking the fourth wall, and having a blast the whole time. His physicality on stage keeps you absorbed in the action. Krambeck is fully tuned in to the physical movements of this show and he doesn’t get lost in his head as an actor. Indeed, the show is a physical tour de force from him–one that appears to also be quite the workout! He is a wonder to watch and his electricity on stage helps create a vibrancy to his character that leaves you wanting more.
The other members of the cast manage to keep up with Krambeck in their own ways. Jon Shaw plays Alan Dangle straight which only makes all the references to his desire to be an actor even funnier. He just wants to be taken seriously, and, of course, in that desire he makes himself into a farce. Bill Huston, as Alfie, gets the most physical abuse as he gets hit by doors, falls down the stairs and abused by Francis.These pratfalls just makes the audience laugh even harder. The actors are enriched by the sets and costumes which do a convincing job of recreating 1960’s Brighton England.
Along with all the laughter and fun, this play serves up one last treat of a live band before and during the show. They ride out on their moving platforms and set the tone for the play. The members of the band have their own funny moments and the cast interacts with the band throughout scene changes. It makes for a delightful change to the usually canned music between scenes.
Overall, the play is a fun night out. It’s certainly not a heavy drama and it’s not going to make you want to change the world. But it may make you want to buy a new pair of pants, after you peed a little from laughing so hard.
One Man, Two Guvnors is playing at the Omaha Community Playhouse from April 12-May 5, 2019. Tickets are $24-$36 general admission. You can reserve tickets online at https://ticketomaha.com/Productions/one-man-two-guvnors or by calling the box office at 402.553.0800.
-By Tamar Neumann