Broadway hits of the Depression are typically relegated to the pile of unproduceable plays. Lincoln Center Theater bucked the trend this spring with "Awake and Sing!," and now Off Broadway's Peccadillo Theater Company delivers a modest yet delightful mounting of "Room Service."
Broadway hits of the Depression are typically relegated to the pile of unproduceable plays. Lincoln Center Theater bucked the trend this spring with its Tony-winning revival of 1935’s “Awake and Sing!,” and now Off Broadway’s Peccadillo Theater Company delivers a modest yet delightful mounting of “Room Service.” This daffy 1937 farce concerns a producer barricaded in a Broadway hotel room, with an unpaid $1,200 tab, battling to mount new play “Godspeed,” “an epic of American history, as seen through the eyes of an ignorant Polish miner.”
Visitors come and go; this is a farce with 14 characters and four doors, after all. Director Dan Wackerman keeps the action moving, as a farce director must, and makes the most of the play’s two most famous bits: the scene wherein the main characters — preparing to skip the hotel — empty the closet and dress in multiple layers of clothes; and the scene in which the three starving leads devour a breakfast-laden room service cart while a Stanislavsky-trained waiter enthusiastically auditions. (He points out that he is a member of the actors union and the waiters union — “It’s very hard to get into the waiters union!”)
Wackerman has been at it since forming Peccadillo in 1994, so he knows how to do these plays with minimal budgets in tiny spaces with little-known actors and functional sets and costumes.
Cast is headed by David Edwards, who gives an effective and hardworking turn as erstwhile producer Gordon Miller. Edwards is a road company Bialystock, and echoes of Nathan Lane turn up from time to time in his line readings. But then shoestring producer Max Bialystock no doubt was modeled on Miller.
Scott Evans does an attractive job as the hayseed playwright who quickly catches onto the scam, as do Miller’s assorted associates, including Fred Berman, Dale Carman, Robert O’Gorman and Kim Rachelle Harris. (Note to aspiring actors and their directors: Nothing breaks the period mood quicker than a 1937 character in 1937 underwear displaying a 2006 tattoo.)
This play about a new play in turmoil underwent its own turmoil, shuttering during its original tryout. Producer-director George Abbott, who had three hit farces on the boards at the time, bought the play, filled it with members of his stock company of comedians (including Sam Levene and Eddie Albert) and had his fourth straight comedy hit. He also doctored the script, to good effect; credited authors Allen Boretz and John Murray had no stage success before or after.
Abbott sold “Room Service” to RKO for a staggering $255,000, breaking the $200,000 record set months earlier by that season’s Pulitzer winner, “You Can’t Take It With You.” While the film sale was a windfall for the authors, the 1938 movie didn’t do much good for the reputation of the play or for the Marx Brothers, who starred.
Play has had two major New York revivals, both failures; in 1953, with Jack Lemmon making his Broadway debut as the playwright; and in 1970, with Ron Liebman as producer Miller.
This new production is far stronger than the 1970 revival, which seemed coated in molasses, and presumably the 1953 visit as well (which lasted all of two weeks). Peccadillo’s two 2005 offerings, “Counsellor-at-Law” and “Ladies of the Corridor,” both had Off Broadway commercial transfers. “Room Service,” which probably generates more laughs than any nonmusical in town, seems a candidate to do the same.