This is TACT’s swan song as a producing theatrical company, and although I must admit I have never seen any of their productions, it is always a sad day when the people who love the world of theatre find they have to close up shop. Hopefully, they will move forward onto bigger and better things. Because their love of theatre and entertainment is obvious and in full view in their most recent production of Three Wise Guys, a new play by Scott Alan Evans and Jeffrey Couchman based on the story “Dancing Dan’s Christmas” and “The Three Wise Guys” by Damon Runyon. It’s just too bad that ultimately the material in their final show is so light-weight and screwball silly, that it will be forgotten as fast as it takes to toss the Playbill in the recycling bin. This snicker-worthy and sweetish play doesn’t feel very vital nor is it a high level, high-octane comedy, but it is done with love and a good spirited need to entertain by all involved. That is clear.
The cast is having a grand old time using every stereotypical accent or joke available to them as they inhabit the streets of prohibition-era New York City, Long Island, and Pennsylvania with a big slapstick style, a wide grin, and a very apparent wink to us all. It’s pleasant and mildly entertaining fun as directed by Scott Alan Evans (adapted and directed: Noël Coward’s Long Island Sound), and although this type of comedy is not my cup of tea (or moonshine), the guys behind me were laughing their heads off in a similarly comic style to what was happening on stage. It almost felt like they were extras in an old movie, or at least cousins to the Three Wise Guys on stage.
The trio of actors that make up these Three Wise Guys that get themselves into trouble, escape to a mansion in Long Island in a Santa suit, and follow a shining star to a barn in the woods in hopes to find treasure, all very biblically amusing, are played with solid relish by the talented Jeffrey C. Hawkings (Beyond Therapy) as ‘Dancing’ Dan, Karl Kenzler (Broadway’s Fiddler on the Roof) as ‘Blondy’ Swanson, and Joel Jones (TACT’s You Can’t Take It With You) as ‘The Dutchman’, or you can call him “Mr. The Dutchman” if you’re a British gambling-addicted Butler working in Great Neck, NY trying hard to hold onto his job. The other two men in the small cast play a number of other parts, quick changing in the back, with a clear differential of each. Ron McClary (Flea’s The Lightning Field) has a lot of fun as ‘Good Time’ Charlie, Myrton, and Doc Kelton, as does John Plumpis (TACT’s Widowers’ Houses) as Heine Schmitz, Jasper, and Ambersham. The two women also must be wildly throwing on and off wigs and costumes that vary wildly from sexy and fun to overwrought (David Roser) in the side wings of that small stage at The Beckett Theatre at Theatre Row NYC. It must be quite the comedy in its self. Victoria Mack (Off-Broadway’s A Little Journey) has some fun as the show girl and object of ‘Dancing’ Dan and ‘Good Time’ Charlie’s affection and winking eye, Muriel O’Neill, and is a bit more wobbly with the accent as ‘Blondy’ Swanson’s crush, Miss Clarabelle Cobb. Dana Smith-Croll (TACT’s The Dining Room) is delightful and ridiculous as Mrs. Elizabeth Albright, or ‘Bitsy’ if you catch her eye, but steps down a bit to play an overdone and shaky granny, Gammer O’Neill.
Playing this story out on a surprisingly humorous set, with a pop-out charm designed with an inventive eye for theatricality by Jason Ardizzone-West (Public’s Women of a Certain Age, Illyria), lighting by M.L. Geiger (Broadway’s The Constant Wife), and sound design by Bart Fasbender (Broadway’s Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson), the cast and crew incorporate a charming (if sometimes clumsy) use of shadow puppetry by Andy Gaukel (Basil Twist’s Symphonie Fantastique) to tell some stories that definitely didn’t need to be acted out on stage, and a good use of projections by Dan Scully (Broadway’s Rocky) to make every road trip an interesting one. Overall the piece flies by on a bit shaky but silly charisma, piling on the giddy jokes one on top of each other with sentimental affection. This crew will at least go out with some fun and a giggle, and maybe this piece has some longevity in regional summer playhouses and touring houses up and down the beaches and towns of America. They, like the two guys sitting behind me, might lap this up with a big roaring snort and guffaw. Me? Not so much, maybe I needed a few shots of that hooch to make it a more hilarious ride.