Monday, 23 May 2016 22:28

A Laugh Every Minute in One Man, Two Guvnors Featured

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Timothy Edward Kane is Francis Henshall in Richard Bean's One Man, Two Guvnors, , though June 12. Timothy Edward Kane is Francis Henshall in Richard Bean's One Man, Two Guvnors, , though June 12.

With foreboding I took my seat in Court Theatre’s One Man, Two Guvnors, knowing the actors had devised some parts of the play on their own. As the company frolicked and sang the opening number, the jollity on stage was leaving me stone cold.

But enter Francis Henshall (Timothy Edward Kane) – the ‘One Man’ in the title – and within minutes this British import by way of Broadway had the audience laughing. And me? Full throat guffawing – by the second half, to the point of tears.

One man, Two Guvnors is based on a 1745 Italian Commedia dell Arte, Servant of Two Masters, written in that period’s improvisational comedic form. It has been masterfully adapted to modern sensibilities by Richard Bean, but it helps to know that Henshall is a stylized character of this Italian genre – known as a Harlequin – a hapless, bumbling dolt. While this suggests a scholarly exercise, the show is anything but.

It is more akin to Monty Python or Fawlty Towers - with a dash of Second City and some smart clowning. The action centers on a British seaside in 1963 Brighton, with costumes (nice work by Mara Blumenfeld, who has dressed Mary Zimmerman's productions) and original music (Grant Olding) that match the period perfectly. The plot is ridiculous, centering on mistaken identity and this Harlequin butler trying not to tip off his two bosses about each other. There is some cross dressing. 


Henshall the Harlequin may be hapless - think Stan Laurel of Laurel & Hardy – but Kane makes him a completely sympathetic character who controls the stage and the audience. Carlo Goldoni was commissioned to write the 1745 original by Italy’s premier Harlequin, Antonio Sacchi, as a showcase for his talents - the thin storyline left open ended for improvisation. Goldoni then updated it to capture some of Sacchi's free-form genius.

 It may well be we are seeing our own Sacchi. This locally grown Harlequin, in Kane’s performance, is a stage wonder. He seems born to the role, and Chicagoans are afforded the unique opportunity to see a new type of character born right on the boards at Court Theatre.

Stage screwball comedy evaporates in a retelling, but be assured it is very, very funny – whether you like your humor high brow or low, physical or intellectual, in wordplay or horseplay. The range of scenes includes a very hungry Henshall (Kane) lusting after a piece of cheese on a mousetrap. When his tongue is caught with a snap, he struggles mightily to reach that cheese (without using his hands), to great comedic effect.

Another scene finds Stanley Stubbers (Erik Hellman) one of Henshall’s Guvnors, despondent at the loss of his love. Deciding to cast himself into the sea, he throws himself at the ocean backdrop – discovering it is just a painted sheet. The audience picks up on the joke while Stubbers is bewildered with encountering the “fifth wall” (a recurring point of humor). This was my “laughed ‘til I cried" point.

Once Henshall’s character grounded the action, all the actors’ performances came alive – for me, anyway. The producers hired coaches to school the troupe in language and the Commedia style. But this cast of worthies, in addition to Kane, is impossible to fault, all delivering over the top, memorable performances: Chaon Cross (Pauline Clench), Allen Gilmore (Lloyd Boateng), Alex Goodrich (Alan Dangle), Francis Guinan (Charlie Clench), Erik Hellman (Stanley Stubbers), Elizabeth Ledo (Rachael Crabbe), Ross Lehman (Harry Dangle) and Hollis Resnik (Dolly). You will recognize most of them from their plentiful stage and screen work.

The show runs through June 12, 2016 at Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis Avenue in Chicago. Don’t miss it.

Last modified on Friday, 27 May 2016 11:33
Bill Esler

A native Chicagoan, Bill Esler has been a printer and publisher for more than 35 years. He has B.A. in English with a concentration in writing from Knox College.  



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