Friday, June 08, 2012

"One Man, Two Guvnors"

There are times you go to the theater to be inspired or moved, or to see a bit of the human condition revealed and made clear.

Then there is "One Man, Two Guvnors."  While I'm sure there is some satire about class and oppression buried beneath the clowning and the puns and the pratfalls, that's not the point of this adaptation of Carlo Goldoni's commedia dell'arte farce "The Servant of Two Masters," reset in 60s-era Brighton.  The point is to make you laugh.  And it does.  As long as you can laugh at silliness and exaggeration and the misfortune of others.

Primarily you will be laughing at the misfortune and antics of Francis Henshall, the harlequin played (nearly to perfection) by James Corden.  Though he looks quite well-fed, Henshall is ravenous when the play begins, seeking something - anything - to eat.  His guvnor (cockney slang for employer) hasn't paid him, so when a second job falls in his lap, he snatches it.  Now he has two bosses to please, neither of which knows about the other.

That's about it for plot.  But plot's not the point.  The plot's just there to provide excuses for Corden to perform a series of hysterical physical bits, some as old as the commedia form itself.  You might find it hard to believe that someone can make the moving of a trunk funny for 10 minutes, but Corden pulls it off - with a little help from a couple of audience members.

To be honest, of shows that pay tribute to the British pantos, I prefer "The 39 Steps," a show that played Broadway and toured the nation over the past couple of years.  It featured more theatrical invention,  a real plot and just as much inspired silliness.  Unfortunately, it's closed.  But if you're in the mood for top-notch physical comedy, "One Man, Two Guvnors" fits the bill to a T.  Or should that be "tea"?

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