- Last Updated: 12:14 AM, April 20, 2012
- Posted: 11:33 PM, April 18, 2012
ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS
Music Box Theatre, 239 W. 45th St.; 212-239-6200.
The humor in the new Broadway farce “One Man, Two Guvnors” is so broad, you could drive an 18-wheeler through it — which the actors gleefully do, at 100 mph and without seat belts.
Pratfalls, spit takes, puns, improvisation, winking asides, slamming doors, clowning, audience participation, double entendres and triple takes: “One Man, Two Guvnors” leaves no comic stone unturned.
And mercifully, this production, from London’s National Theatre — brought over with its original cast — doesn’t bother with any underlying message or grand statement. These guys just want one thing, and it’s to make us laugh. They succeed brilliantly.
It helps that the play has a good bone structure. Author Richard Bean borrowed it from Carlo Goldoni’s 1746 comedy “The Servant of Two Masters,” which he reset among small-time crooks in 1963 Brighton. That English beach resort has a big music-hall tradition, which Bean and director Nicholas Hytner (“The History Boys”) giddily draw from, along with “Benny Hill” and the “Carry On” movies. There’s even a live skiffle band.
The servant is now one Francis Henshall (the explosive James Corden), a hapless glutton always on the lookout for his next snack. He signs up to work for two employers: posh, idiotic killer Stanley Stubbers (Oliver Chris) and Rachel Crabbe (Jemima Rooper), who’s in drag pretending to be her dead twin brother.
Francis must prevent them from learning about each other, which of course leads to mayhem.
Add a full rack of assorted eccentrics, and you have a great frame on which Bean and company string jokes and gags like so many Christmas baubles.
Some lines are so absurd, they make you shake your head in disbelief — and crack up.
“Wrap his balls in bacon and send him to the nurse!” Stanley orders Francis.
“I need a clean shirt,” Rachel says. “I smell like a doctor’s finger.”
But it’s Corden who sets the first act on fire, throwing himself into Francis’ idiocy with relish. He eats an envelope, catapults backward over an armchair. No wonder the show has a separate “physical comedy director” (Cal McCrystal).
This kind of pace is hard to sustain, though.
Referring to a stock character in commedia dell’arte — the play’s Italian roots — Francis muses, “If the Harlequin, that’s me, has now eaten, what will be his motivation in the second act?”
Good question. Buxom feminist bookkeeper Dolly (Suzie Toase) emerges as a love interest, but in Francis’ world, the heart matters less than the stomach.
The ballast the paunchy chap provided earlier is missed. But the show has such a deep bench that the supporting cast — including Daniel Rigby as a grandiose would-be actor and Tom Edden as a calamitous elderly waiter — expertly picks up the slack.
Some cynics wondered if “One Man, Two Guvnors” might be too British for New Yorkers. Happily, people tripping over themselves and making faces is funny everywhere.