Several minutes into the Playcrafters Barn Theatre's Lend Me a Tenor, I was concerned that I was in for two more hours of comedy that fell flat with forced funniness, rendering it unfunny, and jokes more worthy of groans than chuckles. But then John VanDeWoestyne's Tito, the titular tenor, and Diane Greenwood's Maria, Tito's wife, entered the stage, and brought with them the strong farcical performances that, until that point, were lacking in Saturday night's performance.
Without VanDeWoestyne and Greenwood, in truth, Playcrafters' presentation of playwright Ken Ludwig's mistaken-identity story would likely be a rather dull affair. That's not to say theirs are the show's only fine performances, but they do have the strongest relationship dynamic among everyone in the cast. It's not hard to believe that their characters have been married for decades - fighting as a result of their over-familiarity with one another, yet always maintaining an underlying love for each other. And the performers' chemistry seems to positively affect the other actors, as if these two were the glue that helps the cast congeal on stage.
Christopher Tracy and Sara Laufer portray Max and Maggie, a couple that has been engaged for three years, but their relationship isn't as easy to swallow as VanDeWoestyne's and Greenwood's. While Laufer is not bad in her role, it would behoove her to explore Maggie's motivations a bit more and portray them more specifically; I didn't get a sense that Maggie was anything beyond friends with Max. Tracy, meanwhile, seems to channel actor John Hodgman (of "I'm a PC" fame) in his portrayal, and comes through with an adorable, self-conscious awkwardness.
Still, even he doesn't really shine until VanDeWoestyne makes his entrance; the dynamics between the two are delightfully humorous, and while they're funny, VanDeWoestyne and Tracy also prove to be exceptional singers. As added benefits to director Donna Weeks' production, we're given well-sung snippets of arias and an opera duet - the latter performed by the aforementioned actors, who are both in good voice, and offer pleasingly accurate harmonies and beautiful tones.
It's also a pleasure to hear Vincent Briley sing, and to watch his bellhop character jockey for Tito's attention. Briley maintains a bright, friendly smile throughout his performance, and his chipper attitude endears him to the audience. Angie Keeney, as the ladder-climbing soprano Diana, makes consistently odd inflection choices on a majority of her lines, but is effectively seductive by means of her body language. Tom Naab takes a straight-laced approach to Saunders, the Cleveland Opera Company's general manager, and delivers his jokes in a serious manner that contrasts with the sometimes silly, very physical humor surrounding him. And Cindy Ramos-Parmley is impressively poised and self-assured in her role as Julia, the take-charge chairperson of the opera company's board, embellishing her performance with the fine use of her black feather boa.
Also serving as scenic designer, Weeks' hotel set is inventive, with the stage dissected into multiple rooms by the employment of half-walls that don't obstruct the view of each room for (most of) the audience. Much to my relief, Weeks also uses actual doors and doorknobs rather than having her actors pantomime the opening and closing - always a pet peeve of mine. (Unfortunately, the hotel-room light switch flipped by one of the performers was not a physical one. Thankfully, though, this miming only occurred once in the show.)
I've never feigned interest in farce; improbable situations mixed with silliness are just not to my personal taste. However, I do like Playcrafters' Lend Me a Tenor. And while credit is due to Ludwig's script, which isn't mere silliness - it does incorporate some clever situations and comedic lines - it's Weeks and her cast, for the most part, that truly bring it to life.
For tickets and information, call (309)762-0330 or visit Playcrafters.com.