First, I should confess that I got to the preview last night at City Theatre–just as the house lights were going down–in a foul mood, due to a combination of even fouler weather (started thunderstorming just as we left the house) and the fact that (partly due to the aforesaid foul weather) I was unable to figure out how to get on to the friggin’ Birmingham Bridge. I’m normally pretty good at finding my way, but this is Pittsburgh, and the combination of poor signage, pouring rain, and the fact that the street layout seems to have been designed by someone throwing a pot of noodles is enough to make me want to throw in the towel sometimes. We were ready to give up when Lo! as if summoned by an angel, a sign appeared pointing to the bridge, and our evening was saved.
See, I’m not a huge fan of most of the George S. Kaufman plays I’ve read or seen (which is sort of strange, because there’s a certain kind of farce that I really love, just not that kind…but I digress).
Why is this relevant? Because Louder Faster is a play about George S. Kaufman returning to his old Pittsburgh home to write a play but instead getting entrapped in the kind of farcical situation that he might have written, complete with slamming doors, mistaken identities, acerbic witty putdowns, and a neat, tied-up-in-a-bow ending. Eric Simonson and Jeffrey Hatcher, the writers, have successfully captured the Kaufmanesque style in their homage to the playwright: the writing is quite funny, and the situation is just plausible enough to allow the audience member to buy the setup (and just implausible enough to justify the strange characters that pop in and out of the East End Victorian living room).
So, the bottom line is: this is a well-rendered production of a kind of play I don’t like, which (combined with that foul mood I mentioned at the beginning of this post) meant that I didn’t enjoy myself nearly as much as everybody else in the house seemed to.
But if you like this sort of thing, this is just the kind of thing you’re going to like. The play demands a very broad playing style, and the acting is solid, with a few absolute standouts in the cast. Marina Squerciati in particular gives a masterfully comic performance as Betty, the secretary who is mistaken for a call girl–her timing is impeccable, and she does some exquisitely beautiful bits of physical comedy as well. Jeffrey Carpenter delivers a delightful turn as fake-Finnish-speaking Jerzy Chimulski (my colleague Don Wadsworth’s dialect work gets kudos here, the invented accent and gibberish language were wonderfully goofy), and, as the G-Man Vic Zimmer, Patrick Jordan is all dead-on deadpan seriousness. The costumes by Michael Krass and set by Tony Ferrieri skillfully evoke 1930s Pittsburgh–I particularly liked the fact that we got a glimpse of one of those old Pittsburgh gas stoves each time the kitchen door slammed open. Tracy Brigden’s directing is sharp and lively, the play moves along at a nice clip, and a hefty serving of local jokes and jabs makes the play feel homegrown and cozy.
And, after my frustrating only-in-Pittsburgh drive to the theatre, I particularly appreciated the invitation to laugh about this town.