It’s a theatre production about theatre production where everything falls apart.
There’s philandering, injury, drunken hijinks and family squabbles. There’s everything that can ruin a show, and somehow it all adds up to a great ride for the audience.
Moon Over Buffalo is the story of a repertory theatre company led by Charlotte (played by Susan Warner) and George Hay (played by Kelly Kijek) — two aging actors on the way down from near fame — who, along with Charlotte’s deaf mother and some younger actors, perform Private Lives and Cyrano de Bergerac.
But the focus is on everything that happens behind the scenes, with George and Charlotte’s marriage looking ready to implode just as the chance of a lifetime drops into their lap, and they struggle to finally obtain the level of fame they’ve always wanted.
Written with wit by Ken Ludwig, whose snipes are a delight to hear, the play is a contortionist’s act of misunderstanding, where, just when you think the characters have hit rock-bottom, things get worse in very creative ways. The effect is very entertaining.
With the play’s theme centring on the oddball crazies who are theatre people, this kind of production risks losing the audience as actors scream in frustration, swear and insult without pity, contort their faces in agony, laugh themselves silly and throw themselves about the stage as they play wildly exaggerated versions of themselves.
But, despite moments when Kijek almost lost himself in his character’s laughter, or when Warner’s unhinged scream was a little more frightening than funny, the Bard to Broadway performance garnered wild laughter from the crowd, and often.
With just an eight-member cast, the play took some chances on young actors for the parts of Paul and Howard, played by Sam Bass and Trent Bjornsen. Both have little experience, but nonetheless held their own during their B2B debut amongst much more experienced actors.
Bjornsen, playing a nervous, starstruck weatherman engaged to the Hays’ daughter, Roz (played by Belle Warner), acts worried and anxious ’til he’s red in the face, while Bass does a decent job of playing George’s right-hand man.
Though it’s the Hays — Belle Warner, Susan Warner, and especially Kijek and Kathy Harper playing mother-in-law Ethel — who provide hilarious and more nuanced portrayals of their often bombastic characters.
Belle Warner’s talent seems underused for the first half of the show as her character works to get away from theatre life and become normal, but she gets to stretch her wings as her character re-descends into her parents’ madness in the second half.
Her mother (both in and out of the play) Susan Warner gives an enthusiastic performance with some good comedic timing.
But the pair with the greatest chemistry was perhaps Kijek and Harper who trade snipes back and forth throughout the show as son- and mother-in-law: Kijek as the fame-hungry hack and Harper the unflappable veteran.
Kijek is the tornado of chaos whose subtle expressions amongst the more ridiculous ones show his quality, as well as his comedic timing and physical comedy. Harper is the eye of the storm, firing off her own well-timed insults with authority to counteract George’s childishness.
Overall, B2B does a great job with Moon Over Buffalo, with Gary Brown directing.
If you’re looking for laugh after laugh, this looks to be the play for you.
As George Hay puts it, “It’s a gift to be that reckless and insane.”
Moon Over Buffalo and various other B2B performances take place at the Village Theatre in Qualicum Beach throughout July until mid-August. For more info, go to b2btheatre.com/performance-schedule/.