Quaint, chaotic comedy 'Room Service' delivers again

November 08, 1997|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

This is how old and quaint the classic comedy "Room Service" is. At the start of the play, a theatrical producer and his company of 22 actors have been freeloading at a fancy midtown Manhattan hotel for two weeks.

And they've racked up a bill of $1,200.

The year is 1937 -- when ladies wore hats, when hanging a stuffed elk head on the wall was not politically incorrect, and when Broadway was still hospitable to serious dramas (instead of just musicals).

In "Room Service," deadbeat producer Gordon Miller is trying to produce a play he's sure is a hit -- a play with a message, no less. The shenanigans Miller engages in, however, are anything but serious, and at Fell's Point Corner Theatre, director Steve Goldklang and his nimble cast delightfully capture the antic period flavor of John Murray and Allen Boretz's comedy.

In 1938, the Marx Brothers turned "Room Service" into a movie, which the playwrights disliked. More recently, an offbeat juggling troupe, the Flying Karamazov Brothers, came up with an even looser version that opened the season at Washington's Arena Stage.

Fell's Point Corner, however, has gone back to the source, which, it so happens, tried out for Broadway at Baltimore's erstwhile Maryland Theatre. Murray and Boretz would feel right at home in the hotel room Goldklang's cast inhabits (charmingly designed by Arthur Bernard Drought, right down to the lace-covered tea cart).

As Miller, Bob Tull is more endearing than shifty, which may help explain why he's such a good con artist. Bryan Dingle, as the wet-behind-the-ears playwright, looks more than a little like a young James Magruder (the Center Stage dramaturg who just made his own Broadway debut with "Triumph of Love"). Though Dingle is considerably more naive, he wises up fast after hanging around with Miller.

Steve Sawicki, who plays the frustrated hotel manager, indulges in exaggerated facial expressions that verge on mugging but are not out of keeping with the broad style of the piece. Paul Craley has the right pompous look and attitude as his number-crunching boss. And Dale Trott brings high-spirited panache to the relatively small but colorful role of a Russian, Stanislavsky-trained actor/waiter.

Before the evening is over, characters contract dire illnesses (and miraculously recover), the mighty are hoodwinked, art triumphs, the aforementioned elk head makes an imposing appearance, and lots of doors slam. Goldklang choreographs the chaos carefully and swiftly, wrapping up the three-act-plus-intermission enterprise in under two hours.

And, quaint though the high jinks may appear, there's at least one line that strikes a modern chord. "My God," Miller exclaims when his sole backer seems to have renegged. "There must be somebody I can sue!"

'Room Service'

Where: Fell's Point Corner Theatre, 251 S. Ann St.

When: 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays; through Nov. 30

Tickets: $10 and $11

Call: 410-276-7837

Pub Date: 11/08/97

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