Anne Arundel Community College's Moonlight Troupers' production of Tom Stoppard's "On the Razzle" represents a challenge for any group of actors. Stoppard's fast-paced farce demands much from its 17-member cast, including high energy, glibness of tongue and physical dexterity.
At a performance Saturday, for the first few minutes I couldn't find much in "Razzle" that dazzled me - the actors recited lines without clear articulation and with scant humor.
The little laughter elicited from the audience resulted from Stoppard's fast-paced dialogue, with so much wordplay that it resembled a foreign language.
But when Robert Reichert appeared as Melchior, the cast seemed to hit its stride, and the humor began to live up to its promise. The play's brisk patter demands highly skilled actors with the timing of professional stand-up comedians. Surprisingly, after their somewhat shaky start, they delivered all that was required.
Stoppard's "Razzle" is based on a 19th-century play by Johann Nestroy that also was the source of Thornton Wilder's "The Matchmaker."
The main character, Zangler, proprietor of a gourmet grocery store in a small Austrian town, plans to marry Madame Knorr, who owns a women's apparel shop in Vienna. To prepare for his new upscale life, Zangler orders clothes and hires personal assistant Melchior, explaining, "I woke up this morning feeling like a new man. So I got one."
Concerned about niece Marie's attachment to Sonders, an impoverished suitor, Zangler decides to leave her with his sister-in-law, Miss Blumenblatt in Vienna. He entrusts the operation of his shop to Weinberl, his head clerk, now appointed manager, and to apprentice Christopher. Once Zangler is out of sight, the pair leave immediately for Vienna to go "on the razzle."
Hilarity ensues when Weinberl and Christopher arrive in Vienna at Madame Knorr's House of Fashion.
Pretending to be client Frau Fischer's husband, Weinberl winds up escorting the frau to a tony Viennese restaurant - the very one where Zangler plans to take Knorr, his fiancee.
Knorr instead arrives with the "Fischer" couple and apprentice Christopher, masquerading as a wealthy Viennese gentleman. Eventually niece Marie and suitor Sonders also show up at the Imperial Gardens restaurant.
In the Troupers' production, Ken Sabel - after an almost too-staccato beginning -fit the role of Zangler to perfection. He masterfully garbles the orders he barks and comically postures in his too-tight new uniform, which signals the discomfort he'll have in his new role married to a successful big-city shop owner.
Nearly always on stage, George Johnson as Weinberl and Peter Moses as Christopher are required to exhibit immense physical and linguistic dexterity. Johnson plays Weinberl with gusto, bouncing off Moses' Christopher, each in turn becoming stand-up comic and straight man.
Both actors not only master the fast-paced dialogue, but are capable of leaping over counters and expertly delivering numerous sight gags.
Johnson and Moses are terrific in their ensemble playing with Madame Knorr, well played by Katie Bowerman, and Kelly McPhee's Mrs. Fischer, who chose expensive items from the menu that the pair could ill afford. Bowerman and McPhee convey a delicious sense of fun and clearly relish their roles.
Joy Ajello's set works well under some tough testing as actors wildly pop in and out of doors and concealed entrances.
Performances continue this weekend at 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $8 general admission, $7 for seniors and organized groups, and $6 for Anne AACC students, faculty and staff.
Tickets may be ordered by calling the box office at 410-541-2457.