If you venture out to “One Man, Two Guvnors” at Yellow Tree Theatre in Osseo, be warned: Even the audience is fair game in this bubbly, unpredictable show.
Richard Bean’s rollicking farce walks a tightrope among clever wordplay, hilarious self-referential musings and broadly sophomoric sight gags, while throwing in the wild card of impromptu improvisation that may pull in unwary spectators without warning.
The work, which starred James Corden when it premiered in 2011 at Britain’s National Theatre (and won him a Tony when it moved to Broadway a year later), transports Carlo Goldoni’s 18th-century classic “The Servant of Two Masters” to Brighton, England, in 1963. The plot is an intricate puzzle of mistaken identities, misapprehensions and mischief-making, as out-of-work musician Francis Henshall’s decision to take on simultaneous employment with two people sends him head over heels into a web of complications.
Director Anne Byrd and a supremely focused ensemble nail this frothy piece of nonsense with exquisite timing and a precisely choreographed sense of mayhem. Jason Ballweber’s ferocious comic skills are on full display in the role of hapless clown Francis, improvising with ease as he transitions through myriad reactions, ranging from blustering bravado to quivering fear, with lightning speed. One scene in particular, involving a misappropriated letter, a disgruntled employer and Francis’ own enormous appetite, nearly brings down the house in its hilarity.
The rest of the cast ably matches Ballweber’s bravura performance. Standouts include Elise Langer, who offers a broadly comic turn as Pauline, the gormless daughter of small-time mobster Charlie the Duck (played with hilarious menace by Sam Landman). Ryan Lear lends just the right amount of aristocratic arrogance to the role of Stanley, one of Francis’ employers, while Peter Simmons shines in dual roles as a slippery attorney and a snooty waiter. Warren C. Bowles, Elena Glass, Marika Proctor, Neal Skoy, Tristan Tifft and Brant Miller all add to the production’s over-the-top madness.
Byrd, who previously demonstrated her command of comic timing with Yellow Tree’s 2014 production of “39 Steps,” adroitly keeps the mayhem on its rails. Cleverly choreographed scene changes are enlivened by Grant Olding’s catchy pop numbers, featuring the musical talents of various cast members.
Sarah Bahr’s detailed costume designs capture the period while adding a layer of witty commentary to the proceedings, from the hot pink petti pants and flouncy crinolines that Langer sports to Francis’ eye-popping checkered suit and wildly colored socks.
Lisa Brock is a Twin Cities theater critic.
One Man, Two Guvnors
Who: By Richard Bean. Directed by Anne Byrd. Produced by Yellow Tree Theatre.
Where: 320 5th Av. SE., Osseo.
When: 7:30 p.m. Wed.-Sat.; 2 p.m. Sun., May 3 & May 13. Ends May 14.
Tickets: $21-$25. 763-493-8733.