A gently daffy comedy, with vividly funny characters at the Metropolitan Playhouse.
By Joel Benjamin
The Metropolitan Playhouse has found yet another gem in Clare Beecher Kummer’s Rollo’s Wild Oat, a gently daffy 1920 comedy. The play, a variation on the upper crust drawing room comedies so popular back then, tells of clueless, upper-crust Rollo Webster (Kevin Sebastian), who wants to use a small inheritance from his grandfather, Horatio Webster (David Licht), to rent the Oddity Theater (!) and star in his own production of Hamlet. In Act I, total amateur Rollo haphazardly gathers his cast with the assistance of street wise Abie Stein (Mac Brydon) the requisite ethnic, who reluctantly falls in with Rollo’s plans. Abie obtains the theater and schleps a short parade of colorful actor types before the inexperienced Rollo. First to show up is shy, virginal Goldie MacDuff (Erica Knight) who, despite her protestations, immediately gets the role of Ophelia, mostly because Rollo’s smitten with her. The main Hamlet characters are divided amongst a motley, but vivid quartet: energetic Whortley Camperdown (Gary Lizardo), ostentatiously pompous Mrs. Park-Gales (Page Clements), quietly haughty Thomas Skitterling (David Licht) and tall, handsome leading man, George Lucas (Timothy C. Goodwin). Rollo’s sister, Lydia (Alexis Hyatt) gaily insinuates herself into the play while the stiff-upper-lip butler, Hewston (Joe Joyce) comes along as dresser all the while hiding a deep, dark secret.
By Act II, Rollo’s Hamlet is going along in full—hilarious, perfectly dreadful—steam ahead mode, outrageously costumed, bizarrely bewigged and portentously emoted, until a note from grand-dad Horatio brings the show within the show to a sudden halt. At the urging of Goldie, Rollo, in mid-speech, rushes off to be with his grandfather.
At the posh upstate Webster estate, all the family problems and romantic couplings are cheerfully and wittily worked out. Lydia has fallen for George, just as Rollo is infatuated with Goldie. Will love triumph? What happens to the poor, abandoned Hamlet cast? Will Rollo be left poverty-stricken by his inflexible, aristocratic grandfather Horatio (David Licht)? Will Hewston save Hamlet?
A silly, but somehow satisfying plot twist, right out of Dickens, brings the lives of grandpa Horatio and ingénue Goldie into synch, softening his hard line. The lone voice of reason, Aunt Lane (Wendy Merritt), Horatio’s sister, wanders in and out of the final act dispensing warmth and wisdom.
The plot is transparent nonsense, of course. What makes or breaks these old fashioned period pieces are the characters—in every sense of that word—and how they’re played. The Metropolitan has found a grand batch of game performers who know how to do character work, in full control of how outrageously hammy they should be. The actors playing the actors are wonderful. As Lydia, Ms. Hyatt is the perfect flapper while Mac Brydon, as Abie, works hard to keep up his Noo Yawk accent, mostly succeeding. Ms. Knight, as Goldie, gains in substance and depth as the play unfolds, turning what might have been a dippy ingénue into an interesting character. Joe Joyce might take the butler-ish hard veneer down a notch or two, but wears his tails with aplomb. Page Clements also plays a robust maid, Bella, with great skill. This is a maid that has a mind of her own. David Licht’s Horatio is all upper crust, cool fussiness which melts in his scenes with Goldie. Wendy Merritt takes an underwritten, jokey part and makes us believe that Aunt Lane is a warmhearted mensch. Kevin Sebastian might rethink petulant haughtiness and find more of the goofiness in Rollo.
The costumes of Sidney Fortner are period perfect and Alex Roe’s set makes the most of the tiny Metropolitan playing area.
Although the last Act could benefit from a quicker pacing, Director, Michael Hardart has just about tamed this frothy mixture of farce and family finances.
Rollo’s Wild Oat – through December 20, 2014
220A East 4th St., between Ave. A & B
New York, NY
Tickets: 800-838-3006 or www.metropolitanplayhouse.org
Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes with one intermission