“One Man, Two Guvnors” proves that there are no truly original plots.
The work, written by British playwright Richard Bean, is an adaptation of “Servant of Two Masters,” a Commedia Dell’arte style comedy dating to 1743. That, in turn, derives from ancient Greek comedies.
The adaptation, which played on Broadway after the original British run under the direction of Nicholas Hytner, takes place in 1963 Brighton, an English seaside resort.
The main character – and “character” is the right word – is Francis, an out-of-work skiffle player who becomes employed by two men he must keep apart so neither will discover he’s working for someone else.
If that’s not confusing enough, one of the two “men” is the gangster Roscoe. Only, he’s really Rachel, twin sister to the deceased Roscoe. And she’s in love with Stanley, who killed her brother.
Things get even zanier when a local mobster tries to arrange his daughter’s marriage to Roscoe – despite suspicions that “he” is gay – while the daugher, Pauline, prefers an overacting amateur actor.
I don’t want to spoil the fun by revealing the other plot turns, except to say that audience volunteers (or those who are volunteered) enter the action.
William T. Fleming served as director and fight-choreographed and he also designed the cleverly assembled set. He balances the overthe-top physical comedy and wit of a fast-paced play.
Much of the play’s humor rests on the shoulders of Francis, the “Man” of the title. Nathan Tatro plays him expansively, like a combination of Pseudolus (from “A Funny Thing Happened”) and Sancho Panza, at least as conceived in “Man of La Mancha.”
His funniest moment comes when carrying on a conversation with himself, taking opposing sides. But his obsession to Dolly – a voluptuous Amanda Spellman – and food also garner laughs.
Kristin Pilgrim is effective as the supposed Roscoe but totally womanly and crazy in love when she unmasks herself.
In the part of Charlie Clench, Kevin Dystra manages to be both a calculating gangster as well as an idiot, who can’t understand that a brother and sister do not identical twins make.
Lena Winter is sweet but determined as Pauline, the daughter whom Clench wants to marry off against her will. Daniel Riker is Alan, the overdramatic would-be actor.
In another cross-dressing role, Lenora Spahn is hilarious as the elderly waiter, Alfie.
David Flinn is Harry Dangle, Alan’s level-headed father, and Greg Garcia is Lloyd, Clench’s friend.
The three-piece skiffle band, consisting of lead singer-guitarist Danny Santiago; bass player Nick Huff; and percussionist Tyler Golsen provides further energy. They play before the show opens and intermittently throughout, with the singing help (during the show) of various cast members. As explained in the program, “skiffle” is a music genre with jazz, blues, folk and American folk influences, usually using homemade or improvised instruments.
The songs are by Grant Olding.
If considering taking the children, be aware the play contains some vulgarities and one glimpse of underwear. A heavy-breathing love scene (though fully clothed) ensues when Rachel and Stanley are reunited.
“One Man, Two Guvnors” continues only through Saturday July 29 at Silver Spring Stage, Woodmoor Shopping Center, 10145 Colesville Road, Silver Spring, MD 20901
For information and tickets, visit: www.ssstage.org.