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TheatreVirginia's "Moon Over Buffalo" falls short.

Tripping Over the "Moon"

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You've probably seen it a half-dozen times: a drunken character in a play or movie tries to put a highly breakable object down carefully. In his stupor it is nearly impossible to negotiate distance and gravity, and he has to try five or six times before the item reaches terra firma. Why do actors do this? Because, when it's done well, it's almost unfailingly funny.

In "Moon Over Buffalo," currently running at TheatreVirginia, Ian Stuart plays a character named George Hay, who spends most of the second act smashed. This gives Stuart at least two opportunities — one with a coffeepot, the other with a mug — to play out this classic scene. But the actor gets the pot down in two tries, the mug in one, never mining the comic gold that's there for the taking.

This may seem like a small detail, but it's representative of the problem with this show, a slamming-door farce directed by George Black. While often amusing, the production is also replete with missed opportunities. The story is set in 1953 and Hay and his wife Charlotte (Alison Edwards) are veteran stage actors who are down on their luck and growing long in the tooth. With their tour stalled in Buffalo, they are seemingly offered a last chance at stardom. Frank Capra, looking for last-minute fill-ins for his latest film, says he's going to fly out to see their matinee performance. Inevitable complications arise, of course, in the form of the Hays' daughter, Rosalind (Andrea Cirie) who arrives unexpectedly with her nebbishy fiancé, Howard (Jim Ireland); a nearly deaf wardrobe mistress (Jen Jones); and a pregnant ingenue (Gretchen McGinty).

All this gets whipped up into a pleasurable enough froth deep into the second act. Edwards, in particular, is always interesting to watch. But while Cirie is striking as Rosalind, her performance is hampered by her affected mannerisms. The supposed romantic chemistry between her and the company stage manager (Christopher Yates) also never rings true. The nervous giddiness that Ireland infuses Howard with is exaggerated to the point of distraction.

This wouldn't be so bad if the rest of the cast was playing along, but Stuart in particular, seems to take the whole thing way too seriously. It's not until he fumbles on-stage dressed as a swashbuckling Cyrano de Bergerac, when he is supposed to be playing the debonair Elyot Chase in "Private Lives," that sparks really start to fly. While certainly a comic highlight, this scene points out too clearly what the rest of the play is missing: the kind of insistent antic energy that makes a farce fly.

James Hunter's nicely detailed and turntable-mounted scenic design captures the clamor and clutter of the theater. Austin Sanderson's costumes — particularly a flashy purple dress for Edwards — effectively evoke the era. But these design elements are mostly window dressing for a show that settles for a bushel-full of laughs when it could have got a

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