Be prepared to park any sense of propriety at the door if and when you see “One Man Two Guvnors,” a raucous, riotous comedy which opened Friday at Phoenix Theatre.
The play. which premiered in 2011 at the National Theatre in London and was nominated for seven Tony Awards when it ran on Broadway in 2012, is based on “The Servant of Two Masters,” by Carlo Goldoni. The story centers on befuddled Francis Henshall (Nathan Robbins) who bites off more than he can chew when he finds himself working for two different bosses. One is upper crust Stanley Stubbers (Michael Hosp) and the other is gangster Roscoe Crabbe (Chelsea Anderson) who was supposedly murdered by Stanley but has miraculously returned from the dead. As it turns out, however, Roscoe is actually his twin sister Rachel who is in love with Stanley. Complicating matters is Pauline Clench (Chynna Fry) who is supposed to marry Roscoe but is set to elope with Alan, a pretentious actor. Struggling to keep his two employers from meeting Francis is at the center of chaotic events in this wacky farce which features slamming doors, mistaken identifies, etc. And if all that pandemonium is not enough to keep the audience entertained, there are also local and contemporary references, 60s-era songs performed by cast members, and rib-tickling improvisations that involve audience members.
Other cast members who excelled in goofy characterizations included Bill Simmons as hoodlum Charlie Clench; Ben Rose as his friend Lloyd Boateng; Rob Johansen as senile waiter Alfie and attorney Dangle; and John Goodson as Gareth, also a waiter. Accompanying the performers during musical numbers in which he also sang was guitarist Neil Cain.
Richard Stockton Rand, professor and coordinator of Undergraduate Theatre Studies at Purdue University, directed. Considering his experience as a director, actor and choreographer who teaches period styles, commedia dell’arte, clown, mask and combat, it is no wonder the broad physical comedy that is inherent in this show is as stupendous as are the actors he cast, who deftly execute it.
Each and every member of the cast was pitch perfect in their comic timing, delivery and accents (guided by dialect coach Richard Sullivan Lee) but leading the pack was Robbins as Francis Henshall. Impressive last season in “American Idiot” and “The Cripple of Inishmann,” Robbins turned in yet another high-octane performance as easily confused, scheming, duplicitous, yet likable Francis whose two main goals are to eat a meal and score with his love interest Dolly (Jolene Mentink Moffatt). It was a marvel to observe Robbins practicing his craft, particularly in a scene in which he battles with lifting a heavy trunk and another in which the two sides of Francis’ persona quarrel and eventually come to blows with one another. Robbins, who graduated with a BFA in musical theater from Indiana University, last spring has since moved to New York City. In possession of rare talents, Robbins, given the right circumstances, has the goods to reach the pinnacle of his profession.
Set designer Dan Tracy, light designer Laura Glover, Costume designer and props master Emily McGee, sound designer Ben Dobler, and technical director Jeff Martin, all contributed to creating Bean’s swinging 60s world, which for those baby boomers, such as this reviewer, in attendance, was nostalgia-inducing.
Tickets for “One Man, Two Guvnors” are $27.00 per person on Thursdays and Sundays, $33.00 per person on Fridays and Saturdays, and $20.00 for anyone 21 & under. Tickets may be purchased by calling the box office at (317) 635-7529 or visiting phoenixtheatre.org. Curtain times are Thursdays at 7 p.m., Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m.