Buck Busfield, who’s worked for decades directing and producing plays on the tiny stage at the old B Street Theatre venue in Midtown Sacramento, must feel like he’s arrived in the promised land.
In One Man, Two Guvnors, his first production at the $30 million Sofia Tsakopoulos Center For The Artist, Busfield takes full advantage of his spacious new digs.
For instance, he sends actor John Lamb on a loping walk around the perimeter of the new stage, talking about the future and exploring the possibilities for comedy. “Destiny, destiny,” Lamb says. The audience laughs, but it’s also very real for the B Street team: In the new play, Busfield deploys a total of eleven actors, along with a live band, which would have been all-but-impossible at the old stage, where six actors constituted a crowd.
This show is likewise quick to demonstrate the new venue’s fly space; actor Dave Pierini gets bird-bombed by white droppings (soggy marshmallows from a catwalk high above).
In another scene, actors Jason Kuykendall and Stephanie Altholz leap off a bridge, and seemingly disappear. But they’ve actually landed on a mattress in trap space below the stage.
These classic theater techniques weren’t available in the old venue, which was more like a TV studio. By contrast, The Sofia was designed, from the git-go, for staging live plays.
One Man, Two Guvnors is a bawdy farce. The setting is a British beach resort in the early 1960s. But the plot comes from a classic Italian comedy written in the 1700s, about scrappy manservant constantly on the lookout for his next meal, and who tries to get ahead by simultaneously serving two demanding masters, creating constant confusion.
In addition to abundant physical comedy, there’s nonsensical wordplay, including a breathless dialog that turns into a trainwreck of words beginning with the letter D:
“He was diagnosed with diarrhea but he died of diabetes. He died of diabetes, did he? He did, didn’t he? Were you there? When? When he was diagnosed with diarrhea but died of diabetes. No, I was in Dagenham.”
This is not a snooty literary script that glitters with high-level intellectual dialog. It tilts toward knee-to-the-crotch comedy, plus a gross-out scene involving dumpster diving for half-eaten fish and chips. The script includes a few verbal vulgarities you might not want to share with a gabby five year old.
And at two hours and 45 minutes, this is a lengthy show by B Street standards, too long for many kids, and some adults, particularly if you attend an evening performance.
But while One Man, Two Guvnors does not harbor lofty literary ambitions, it does steal a few plot devices from Shakespeare — a plucky girl wearing pants, who passes herself off as a young tough. There’s also a bit of Beatlemania-style nostalgia, in the form of chirpy songs performed during set changes.
All told, this show gets the new B Street venue off to a lively start. Just come prepared to sit down and stay a while once you get into the theater.
The B Street Theatre’s production of One Man, Two Guvnors continues at The Sofia through March 4.