It’s not until the third act of Three Men on a Horse, the 1935 farce written by John Cecil Holm & George Abbott which is being revived (and I use the term loosely) by The usually right on target The Actors Company Theatre at the Beckett on Theatre Row that this comedy hits its full stride with the entrance of James Murtaugh as Mr. Carver, the owner of the greeting card company that Erwin Trowbridge (Geoffrey Molloy appearing very much like George Gobel who played the role in the flop musical version “Let It Ride” ) the hero of the piece works for, writing poetic verses for Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day et al.
Mr. Murtaugh has just the right attitude, the right demeanor, the right exaggeration of exasperation and frustration, the right energy to make this farce work as it should. If only the rest of the company were up to his level this review might be a rave.
“Might” being the key word here. The play itself is based on the mildly amusing, one joke premise that Erwin, a mild mannered man married to spendthrift Audrey (Becky Baumwoll who reminds one of a cross between Olive Oyl and Blondie Bumstead acting very much in a cartoon-ish mode) picks winning horses as a hobby on his way to and from work – on a bus – from Ozone Heights, New Jersey to New York City. He keeps a record of all his imagined “winnings” in a little black book that his wife finds and all hell is supposed to break loose when on a drunken bender Erwin falls into the hands of a group of real horse players at the bar in a New York Hotel.
You almost expect them to break out in a chorus of “I got the horse right here” – Fugue for Tinhorns from Frank Loesser’s Guys and Dolls. All the familiar Damon Runyon characters are on the loose here.
Patsy (a wonderfully sleazy yet debonair ring leader Gregory Salata) and his cohorts Charlie (a nervous Jeffrey C. Hawkins) and Frankie (a mugging Don Burroughs). Mabel, Patsy’s gal who has to hock her clothes and bracelets when the horses aren’t winning is played with the usual dumb blonde finesse by Julianna Zinkel with a dash of nice vulnerability and compassion. As the bartender Harry (Ron McClary) scores as does Erwin’s brother-in-law real estate magnate Clarence Dobbins (Scott Schafer).
When they discover Erwin’s gift they want in and sober him up, offering him a percentage of all the winning races if he just continues to use his “mental betting” to their advantage. He agrees but never bets on his own. That would ruin everything. And according to Hoyle it almost does.
Part of the fun is seeing all this unravel. But no matter what director Scott Alan Evans comes up with from the pre-show taking of bets from the audience for a miniature horse race that opens the show (winners collect during the first intermission) to the great period music used for the scene changes of the troublesome set designed by Brett J. Banakis to Mabel’s ex-Follies Girl specialty number to the use of the voice of legendary track announcer Dave Johnson, the one note Three Men on a Horse seems to be stuck in the paddock.
“And they’re off” takes on a whole new meaning. The Actors Company Theatre is surprisingly off their usual winning streak here. www.tactnyc.org Through April 16th Photo: Stephen Kunken
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