An Italian Straw Hat by Eugene Labiche is his best farce and has long been a staple in regional theaters. South Coast Repertory is known for its presentation of the classics, with a huge mix of new, often commissioned works. It makes perfect sense for their first commissioned musical to be based on this classic French farce, now turned into a vaudeville, or fast-moving farce with songs. It is a cute little show, with book and lyrics by John Strand and music by Dennis McCarthy.
The story is the familiar one of a man whose horse eats a lady's hat on his wedding day, and he spends the day frantically trying to find a replacement and calming the nerves of all the parties involved. Daniel Blinkoff, fresh from his performance in American Tales for Antaeus, builds on a very similar character here, but adds some really marvelous physical comedy. I don’t think I have seen double-takes like that since Cary Grant saw the body in the window-seat in Arsenic and Old Lace.
The lady in question is played by the talented Michelle Duffy, who won an Ovation Award for playing Pastiche in CanCan at the Pasadena Playhouse. They are surrounded by a troupe of zanies. Outstanding in this group are Richard Doyle as the future father-in-law, Alan Blumenfeld (again in the near "altogether," as he was in Rhinoceros at the Odyssey a while back) as the lady's jealous husband, Patrick Kerr (hysterical in the dual roles of deaf Uncle Fez and the elegant Viscount), and the outrageously funny audience favorite Kasey Mahaffy in the dual roles of the delusional Tardiveau and the Lurch-like Farnsworth. In order to make farce work you need great comic teamwork, and you have it here in this production.
A good farce also needs a good director, both for pacing and for comic business. Stefan Novinski, a very busy Southland freelance director, makes it all go smoothly. The only hitch was a slow costume change by Blinkoff, though he covered it with grace and humor. I loved Novinski’s touch with the two bumbling servants, played by Mathew Bartosch and Jake Wells. Dennis Castellano does his usual super job of musical direction.
This is not a daring show, like the kind you see at La Jolla or the Old Globe, but it’s a good start. My only complaint is that the songs are generally only one verse long, so they can hardly be called songs in the usual musical comedy sense. But they did add some fun music to a classic farce. An Italian Straw Hat: A Vaudeville plays at South Coast Rep until Oct 5th.Powered by Sidelines