His Girl Friday at the Festival Theatre
If you want to enjoy an afternoon of frivolity, but desire something a little more amusing than simply watching children play in a park, then head for Shaw and devote slightly over two hours to Jim Mezon's production of His Girl Friday. Blessed with a cast to die for, but subject matter and dialogue that's actually dead, my guess is that the principal direction for the talented crew was to "have some fun out there on the stage," for that's pretty much what they do, rewarded at the end with appreciative applause from an audience that I swear, enjoyed a mean age of 84 years, and that's mean!
As she did in The Millionairess,
occupies and dominates centre stage once more. She stars as Hildy, the Chicago Daily Record's star crime reporter, about to leave the newspaper life behind to become a housewife to nerdy Bruce Baldwin, an insurance salesman in Albany played by
. Bundy is hilarious as a mother's boy who carries a precautionary umbrella and wears rubbers on his shoes, the dominant mother, Mrs. Baldwin, a bossy
who detests female authors and rhymes off most of them before being carried off stage.
Walter Burns, Hildy's pitiless editor and ex-husband is embodied by
, a despicable opportunist who cheats, invents and steals his way back into Hildy's heart, because they are essentially made of the same stern stuff: ambition and nitroglycerine. Campbell is charged with manic energy and it doesn't matter if he flubs a few lines, because his rapid-fire machinations never ebb.
Peter Hartwell has utilized the entire mammoth stage to depict the press room at the Chicago courthouse, replete with garbage and crumpled paper strewn all over the floor much to the chagrin of Woodenshoes (
) who incessantly tries to tidy it up. The callous members of the press play poker, kibitz, and "ooh" and "aah" each time that the shapely "Her" (
) waltzes through the room. Extremely inventive, they call in imaginative stories to their respective newspapers.
Although Campbell and Underhay are the main focus of the production, and the play does lag at the beginning until they get on stage, there are several comic antics performed by others who are hilarious. Kevin Bundy's inevitable disintegration (thanks to Campbell) is side-splitting on body language alone.
is priceless as the inebriated Saskatchewan-born Pinkus who gets sent to a whorehouse by the Mayor,
, always larger than life but sufficiently corrupt to reflect Chicago politics.
as Bensinger gets extra mileage out of flopping about and is a treat to watch as always.
is the Sheriff, so slow-witted that he loans his gun to Earl (
), a jailed killer to help reenact his shooting of a policeman.
Basically, the supporting cast represents a constant parade of characters intent on merriment, and they thrive off the antics of each other. And despite the solemn surroundings of an impending execution on the gallows, a jailbreak with orders to shoot to kill and even a suicide by Mollie Malloy played by
(we don't blame her for jumping out the window; any sane person would do the same.) the madcap frivolity continues unabated.
Mezon is the gym teacher who throws out a ball to his gifted class and says, "Play!"
As I left the theatre, there was one small regret. I pondered what this brilliant cast might do with subject matter a tad more serious on the large Festival Stage. It would be a treat to watch stars such as Underhay and Campbell do something other than simply shout at one another.
Theatre goers may remember the 1940 movie by Howard Hawks starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell.
or the 1974 movie by Billy Wilder starring Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau