It is often said that they don't make them like they used to, which implies that today's creative forces favor unoriginal productions that appeal to an impatient audience expecting formula work and phoned-in performances. But with the Peccadillo Theater Company's revival of the 1937 slapstick comedy Room Service, it can safely be said that they have made this one like they used to: just right. During the Depression, John Murray and Allen Boretz wrote this look at the backstage world of theater (it was turned into one of the lesser-known Marx Brothers movies), but the play's often dated references only serve to make it a charming period piece in Dan Wackerman's production at the Bank Street Theater. The action takes place entirely in the Midtown hotel room of theatrical producer Gordon Miller (David Edwards). Miller, a master of manipulation, is struggling to get a play, Godspeed, off the ground. Though the play has no backer yet—and therefore no money—Miller has nonetheless managed to scam the hotel into providing room and board, and rehearsal space, for himself, his crew, and a cast of 19 (though never seen) actors.
But with one week to go before opening night, the creditors have come knocking. At the same time, naïve playwright Leo Davis (the cherubic Scott Evans) arrives in the big city from upstate, with little more than a dollar and a dream, to meet his cast and crew and see the play performed. All this leaves Miller and director Harry Binion (Fred Berman) to attempt one bumbling scheme after another.
Abetting these artists are producer's assistant Faker Englund (Robert O'Gorman); frantic hotelier Joseph Gribble (Dale Carman), who also happens to have the poor fortune of being Miller's brother-in-law; and leading actress Christine Marlowe (Kim Rachelle Harris), Miller's girlfriend. In fact, all the characters end up as instrumental to one scheme or another, including a Russian hotel waiter named Smirnoff (Louis Michael Sacco), who finds himself onstage; Miller's secretary, Hilda Maney (Blythe Gruda), who finds love with playwright Davis; and hotel supervisor Gregory Wagner (Sterling Coyne).
In traditional fashion, all the pieces fall into place in the second act for a happy ending. But the beauty and grace of Wackerman's production is not so much what the play is about but how it goes about it. Wackerman could very easily have let the play's antics go wild in the small space of the Bank Street stage, but he modulates such mad-cappery perfectly. There is never too much action occurring onstage at any given time, and the action is so well choreographed that you always know precisely where to focus your attention.
And the prowess of Wackerman's players is not to be underestimated. Edwards is perfect in the lead role of the indefatigable producer who always has yet another trick up his sleeve. It is a witty performance delivered with perfect timing. Miller may seem cavalier at times (how can a producer fool an entire cast and crew into thinking there is money when a show has none?), but he genuinely wants the show to go on more than anyone else. To him, the play really is the thing.
Evans is absolutely perfect as the cornpone playwright with a heart of gold, and he becomes the heart and soul of the play. He is also excellent at physical comedy. At the end of each act, he feigns illness. In one of the evening's silliest, yet funniest, scenes, he even fakes his character's death, enduring histrionics that would impress a gymnast.
Of course, none of that would work without the rest of the cast reacting well around him. Theirs is an example of perfect synergy—they come together so perfectly that the show moves along fluidly, with nary a lull in the action or a hole in Wackerman's deft pacing.
Carman is hilarious as the high-strung Gribble, and Coyne is perfect as the explosive Wagner. Both supporting ladies, Gruda and Harris, are wonderful foils as well. Other actors, including Jerry Coyle, Louis Michael Glass, and Dennis Wit, stand out, with several playing multiple small roles in the small ensemble. All the performers mesh extremely well, yet it is Berman who ends up stealing the show with his mile-a-minute Noo Yawk talk.
Room Service proves that a play doesn't have to be hip and new to be entertaining. All a performance needs is the right ingredients, served fresh.