In Ulster County, lots of people know Denny Dillon as the founder of Improv Nation, acting teacher, visual artist and proprietor of the recently reopened Drawing Room Art Gallery in Stone Ridge. TV audiences remember her as the shortest-ever cast member of Saturday Night Live (and regrettably, one of the briefest-ever) and as Toby in the HBO sitcom Dream On. She has done lots of bit parts in movies and cartoon voiceovers. Theatergoers, however, know her as a Tony Award nominee as Featured Actress in a Musical for her portrayal of Mickey in My One and Only in 1983, along with a host of other Broadway roles, including in Angela Lansbury’s 1974 revival of Gypsy.
Currently, Dillon is starring at Ellenville’s Shadowland Theatre in a production of Ken Ludwig’s popular farce Moon over Buffalo, in the role originated by Carol Burnett in the play’s 1995 Broadway debut. You have one more weekend to catch her and the rest of the terrific cast in this raucous door-slammer, delivered with impeccable timing and ever-escalating hysteria as a down-at-heels theatrical company threatens to come apart at the seams while on tour in Buffalo in 1953.
The play’s premise is that director Frank Capra plans to attend the company’s matinée in search of emergency replacements for an injured Ronald Colman and absconding Greer Garson in his production of The Scarlet Pimpernel. It’s the opportunity of a lifetime for washed-up actors Charlotte (Dillon) and George (Joel Leffert) Hay, but everything goes awry when Charlotte finds out that the company’s ingénue Eileen (Emily Stokes) is pregnant by George.
An incensed Charlotte decides to run away with the company’s attorney, Richard (Ray Faiola); George drowns his sorrows in drink. Meanwhile, the Hayses’ daughter Roz (Susan Slotoroff) shows up to introduce her fiancé Howard (Paul Caiola) to the family while her ex-boyfriend, stage manager Paul (Justin Pietropaolo), tries to keep things from running entirely off the rails. Throw in Charlotte’s seriously hard-of-hearing mother Ethel (Carolyn Seiff), who pours a bottle of whiskey into the pot of coffee with which Paul is trying to sober up George in time for the show to go on, and you have a recipe for the kind of zany, over-the-top stage comedy that scores a hit for Shadowland every summer without fail.
Dillon clearly knows her stuff, plying her girlish voice and tiny-but-zaftig stature to great advantage as Charlotte is by turns flirtatious with Richard, enraged with George and later worried about him when he goes missing, motherly with Roz, obsequious with Howard (whom she has mistaken for Capra) and generally exasperated with the entire unraveling situation. She can slide from mincing to roaring and back again in the bat of an eyelash.
Leffert supplies a fine foil in the physically demanding role of George, who is staggering drunk for most of the second and third acts and eventually shows up playing Cyrano de Bergerac with an excess of bombast while the rest of the cast is trying to enact Noel Coward’s Private Lives for Capra’s benefit. It’s in that latter scene that Slotoroff particularly shines, as Roz is called upon to ad lib at length, waiting for her addled father to respond to his cue. Pietropaolo is also excellent as the desperately frazzled Paul, showing a fine command of slapstick stage movement as he’s yanked hither and thither amidst the chaos.
All in all, this Shadowland production is expertly rendered under Brendan Burke’s direction, leaving the audience quite weak and breathless with laughter at the performance that this reviewer attended. You can still see Moon over Buffalo at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, July 30 to August 1. The final performance starts at 2 p.m. this Sunday, August 2. Tickets cost $39 for evening shows, $34 for matinées, and can be ordered by calling (845) 647-5511 or online at www.shadowlandtheatre.org.
Denny Dillon in Moon over Buffalo, Thursday-Saturday, July 30-August 1, 8 p.m., $39, Sunday, August 2, 2 p.m., $34, Shadowland Theatre, 157 Canal Street, Ellenville; (845) 647-5511, www.shadowlandtheatre.org.