The Hale Center Theater is not about to let its audiences slip quietly and gently into the New Year and its 1994 season. Instead, brace yourself to be dragged kicking and screaming - kicking up your heels and screaming with laughter.

I've never cared much for the silly, no-holds-barred slapstick humor of the Marx Brothers or the Three Stooges, and many HCT patrons will probably remember "Room Service" from Hollywood's 1939 Marx Brothers' version.The original stage version does pack an abundance of physical, frenzied humor into the plot, but much of the ensuing chaos comes as much from the goofball storyline as it does from the high-velocity pranks and pratfalls.

I've cautioned audiences before about the dangers of venturing into auditorium aisles during a performance - but with "Room Service," the warning should be posted on the doors in art deco neon. As this comedy unravels, you could get run over by a bicycle, a lunatic on roller skates, even a little red wagon, not to mention dozens of actors dashing helter-skelter up and down the two ramps (which temporarily replace two of HCT's staircases).

Bryan P. Jacobs' 1930s set is nicely stylish, Rosemary Bengele's costumes (yes, even Faker's wild plaid suit) are right on target, and Marilyn Montgomery's choreography is, as usual, excellent - but what really gives this show its boundless energy is director T.S. Hansen's cast.

Like all HCT productions, this one is double-cast. But there are a couple of performers who (obviously gluttons for punishment) are in both casts.

Set designer Jacobs portrayed Russian waiter/wannabe actor Sasha Smirnoff the night I saw the play, but on alternate nights you can see him as Harry Binion, the director of a new play that may or may not open as scheduled in New York.

And Janice Power appears in both casts as Hilda Manney, the ditzy secretary to the manager of the White Way Hotel.

All of the action takes place in Room 920 of the hotel, where a troupe of actors has been attempting to rehearse a production called "Hail and Farewell," and amassing a giant pile of unpaid bills (if only the play's financial backers would stop backing out).

View Comments

Room 920 provides positive proof that not all of New York City's notorious hustle and bustle takes place in Times Square.

The cast, overall, is quite wonderful - John A. Adams as the slippery producer, considerably more skilled at juggling creditors than he is at balancing a checkbook; Gordon Johnson as the flustered hotel manager; E. Linda Moore as the hotel bookkeeper (who must have graduated with honors from the Leona Helmsley School of Hotel Management); John Lesko as the play-within-a-play's director; Nancy Flamm as Christine, his show's leading actress; Greg Greenwood as the incredibly zany Faker; newcomer J. Phil Richardson, making an auspicious HCT debut as playwright Leo Davis; and Gary Gingold as the middleman for a potential backer.

On alternate nights you can catch such HCT stalwarts as Ron A. Jewett, Rocky Revels, Mark Dietlein and Mary K.W. Moore (no relation to Linda, although they did portray the Pigeon sisters in HCT's 1992 production of "The Odd Couple").

Adding a sophisticated touch to the production is the inclusion of the hotel's White Way Lounge, where pianist Brent Fotheringham and an alternating duo of singers (Jackie Forrest and Todd Russell on Thursday night) perform jazzy 1930s tunes by Porter, Gershwin and other greats from that era.

Join the Conversation
Looking for comments?
Find comments in their new home! Click the buttons at the top or within the article to view them — or use the button below for quick access.