Running through March 29 at Lamb’s Player’s Theatre Coronado, Allen Boretz and John Murray’s “Room Service” is a case in point — how to take a company of 11 actors in 14 roles and blend them stylistically into a precise juggernaut that appears to chug along effortlessly, making visual comedy out of chaos. If not smoothly done, farce becomes tedious and an audience begins to tap its feet and wish it were anywhere but there.
Granted, this 1937 Broadway play, famously, or infamously, made into a Marx Brothers film the following year, is rife with thin characters once the playwright goes beyond the protagonist and his cohorts. Despite a certain resonance with our times, the piece shows its age. “Room Service” concerns a theatrical producer during the Great Depression. Many superior farces have been written since — Marc Camoletti’s “Don’t Dress for Dinner,” for instance.
Here’s the set-up for “Room Service.” Desperate Broadway producer Gordon Miller (Jon Lorenz) has ensconced his 22-member company into the struggling White Way hotel, which is managed by his brother-in-law (Lance Arthur Smith). Miller is trying to scrape together enough money to produce “Godspeed,” a play by the unknown upstate New York naïf, Leo Davis (promising newcomer Dan Amos). Davis shows up expecting his cash advance just as the hotel manager (John Rosen) threatens to evict the entire troupe. Kurt Norby portrays the director and Jason Heil the play’s stage manager, factotum and promoter.
The best bits: Lamb’s Players’ stalwart treasure, David Cochran Heath, plays Sasha, a Russian immigrant working as a bellboy and hoping to get a part in “Godspeed.” Hilariously, Heath also plays a collection agent bent on repossessing Rosen’s typewriter, a bank messenger and a senator.
When an angel materializes, it’s with the proviso that his mistress will get a part in the show. All machinations, including the playwright’s illness and impending death, concern obfuscation of the truth. Until the backer’s check clears, they are broke, hungry and imminently homeless. Miller staves off each disaster with measles, mirrors, iodine and Ipecac.
Others in the company are Sarah Zimmerman as Miller’s associate, Elizabeth Pennington as Miller’s secretary, Danny Campbell as the hotel doctor and Jim Chovick as the angel’s representative.
So busy and complicated a farce must be staged like the presto movement of a symphony. Despite the fast tempo, however, the movement requires an occasional decrescendo and a subtle shaping of phrases. Otherwise it is triple forte all the time. This review is based on the 7:30 p.m. performance of Feb. 18.
Robert Smyth stages “Room Service” on Mike Buckley’s attractive set, with costumes by Jeanne Reith, lighting by Nathan Peirson and sound by Lorenz.
“Room Service” plays at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 4 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday through March 29 at Lamb’s Players Theatre, 1142 Orange Ave., Coronado. For tickets ($22-$56), visit www.lambsplayers.org or call (619) 437-6050.