Fourteen people! If I took nothing else away from local playwright F.J. Hartland’s Be Our Guest, it’s that the cast comprises 14 people! Most new musicals don’t feature 14 people, let alone situation comedies like this.
Some of the funniest evenings I’ve spent in the theater have been at Hartland plays, so I was eager to see this new one, in a special fundraising production for the Theatre Factory. The plot concerns the Guest family, a group of wackadoos living in some rural outland. The oldest Guest son — the only normal one in the bunch — brings home his new bride to meet the family. Hijinks ensue.
In some ways, Be Our Guest is a tribute to another large-cast show about two lovebirds and a wildly eccentric family, the Kaufman & Hart classic You Can’t Take It With You … but on steroids. These people aren’t merely eccentric, they’re certifiable. The mother spends her time selecting her gravestone, epitaph and burial dress … even though she’s not ill. The father is a historical re-enactor who, every time he enters, is dressed as a different first lady. The daughter carries around (and speaks for) the stuffed carcass of the family’s dead dog, the grandmother is dating a porn star … and on and on. All of them, except for the newlyweds, are smack out of their minds.
And 12 crazy people are just too much for one show. Hartland simply doesn’t have time to develop the strong structural spine he needs to carry all of this insanity. When the last of the dozen enters and proceeds to unwrap her hyper-lunacy, we are waaaay over it.
But this is an early production of a new script, and Hartland is too smart a playwright not to understand the work ahead. Not that he needs my advice, but cutting the cast in half would be an excellent place to begin.
Director Jacob Wadsworth does a terrific job keeping the pace and energy bright and fast. There are too many in the cast to mention individually, but I did enjoy T.J. Firneno, Teresa Madden Harrold, Greta K. Englert and Tom Protulipac, who manage to find a few moments to make an impression.