nytheatre.com review by David Fuller
July 10, 2006
When you think of Room Service you probably think of the 1938 movie starring the Marx Brothers. But it was a Broadway hit before that, incidentally, minus the brothers Marx. This 1937 Depression tonic by John Murray and Allen Boretz is rooted in its time, with many topical references to people and places of a New York that are unknown to most 21st century theatregoers. Yet the play prevails—a testament to its sturdy construction along classic Feydeau lines and to the current expert interpretation by the Peccadillo Theater Company.
The story is pretty standard for the time, and very reminiscent of plays like George S. Kaufman's The Butter and Egg Man. The play is set entirely in one room of a fairly seedy midtown hotel where a theatrical producer, Gordon Miller, is struggling to get his surefire hit on the boards. He has managed to eke out rehearsal and sleeping space for himself and his cast and crew in a Broadway hotel for several months, on credit. Now, as the show is about to finally go on, the creditors are coming home to roost.
The fledgling playwright Leo Davis is no help money-wise, but he and the eccentric director Harry Binion do help Miller stage a series of schemes to keep the businessmen at bay so that the art can go on. Helping them are the producer's assistant Faker Englund, a man who has known the inside of a penitentiary; Joseph Gribble, the hysterical hotel manager and brother-in-law of Miller; and Christine Marlowe, the leading actress who has been around, knows the ropes and by the way is also Miller's girlfriend. Along the way, a Russian waiter named Smirnoff gets his big break, the hotel supervisor Wagner gets his comeuppance, the man with the check, Jenkins, gets stupefied, and the hotel doctor gets, well, trussed up. Oh, and of course there's a love interest for the playwright in the person of Miller's heart-of-gold secretary, Hilda Maney.
This isn't quite the door-slammer of a classic farce, where set geography is key and where what (and who) are on the other side of the doors are a constant threat to the plot. Here, yes, doors are slammed, but there is very little unseen action behind those doors. It is more of a comedy of situation (not a sitcom) revolving around events in the hotel room—hence the title. In fact, the whole key is "service to the room" in the obvious hotel dining sense, coupled with "service of the room" in the sense that the room itself is central to the plot. There are however innumerable comings and goings and like all good farce the play is also a comedy of language and wit. The one-liners and rapid-fire banter evoke grins, giggles, and guffaws.
Director Dan Wackerman has gathered a cast that really knows how to play this style of comedy and he keeps the pace moving as it should. David Edwards is perfect as producer Miller, with wit, charm, and a canny ability to deliver the punchline. Scott Evans as the playwright Davis is a very good physical comic who also knows how to tweak a line to best comic effect. If Edwards's Miller is the brains of this show, Evans's Davis is the heart.
Fred Berman plays director Binion to the hilt with deft timing and slapstick acumen. Dale Carman is hilarious as the high-strung Gribble. Kim Rachelle Harris evokes Eve Arden in a wonderful interpretation of the actress Marlowe. Sterling Coyne's Wagner is a volcano of bluster and great fun to watch erupt. Raymond Thorne does very well as Jenkins; Blythe Gruda is equally good as the ingénue Hilda. Robert O'Gorman as Faker Englund, Dennis Wit in two very different characters (the repossessor from the We Never Sleep Collection Agency and the bank messenger), Jerry Coyle as the doctor, and Louis Michael Glass also in two rolls (Smirnoff the waiter and Senator Blake) all deserve accolades for their fine work.
The set by Chris Jones, the lighting by Jeffrey E. Salzberg, and the costumes by Gail Cooper-Hecht all serve the play effectively. This room looks just as one imagines it would look, suitably seedy, with just the right touch of realism in the lighting, including the obligatory flashing exterior lights (this is Broadway, after all). The costumes are particularly outstanding, from period ties to period overcoats and all that goes underneath, including an impressive array of period underwear.
Director Wackerman brings us a lively entertainment that I highly recommend with only one caveat. Do try to sit in the center section if you can. Wackerman's staging doesn't always suit the thrust stage at the Bank Street Theater—I sat on the side and some key moments were lost to us there. But even if you don't get the best seats I think you will leave happy, having spent two hours laughing away your cares.