No Vroom at the Inn

The Thirties produced great Hollywood comedies and a few equally dazzling Broadway offerings--sophisticated yet crazed, darkly perceptive about human frailty, and often politically subversive (all the best comedy is subversive in one way or another). The Marx Brothers, Frank Capra, Ernst Lubitsch, W.C. Fields, Noel Coward, Ben Hecht and so many other intelligent comics were bent on skewering everything from capitalism to artistic pretensions, from the war between the sexes to the duplicitous shenanigans of politicians. Not only did their films and plays survive the period, but their unforced joy in life and serious edge--a knowing, even sardonic take on the difference between professed mores and actual behavior--still ring true today.

But many more of the Thirties comedies didn't deserve to survive the decade--they're just too time-bound and too empty. Room Service, by John Murray and Allen Boretz, is one of those, despite official protestations to the contrary. The first two acts of the Denver Center Theatre Company production are nearly interminable, and while the antics pick up speed and hilarity in the third act, by then it's too late to matter.

The cliched plot involves a down-on-his-luck producer, Gordon Miller, who can't find a backer for his new play. His hotel bill is due, his actors are hungry, and his naive young playwright, Leo Davis, arrives from Oswego demanding a cash advance. Miller keeps creditors at bay, moves the playwright into his own suite and hustles a backer who is ready to sign a contract and hand over a large check, when the hotel's management rushes in and jinxes the deal. Ever resourceful, Miller fools his nemesis and launches the show--all on hotel credit. Opening night arrives, the all-important check bounces, and Miller and company launch the most amusing routine of the evening as playwright Davis pretends to be dying so the manager won't call the police and stop the show. The ending is predictable, of course.

EEThe set, by Vicki Smith, is the best thing about this production: It's done in rich grays in imitation of period movies. The slight touches of color--a red tie, a green handkerchief, a bunch of bananas--stylishly punctuate the monochromatic set. James Dunn's snappy direction keeps the action swirling smoothly but is never inventive enough to defy the conventions. This is the same old same old.

The cast is competent and energetic, but there are no surprises here, either. Peter Reardon gives Gordon a terrific boyish grin but very little actual charisma. Yuri Brusilovsky as a Russian waiter waiting for his big break in America hilariously auditions for a major role in Miller's production--in exchange for a smuggled supper. Dane Knell is predictable as the shortsighted hotel boss, while Kevin Waldron gives the only truly excellent performance as the easily dominated hotel middle manager, Gribble.

The best thing about the women in the cast, Diane Hudock and Mary Bacon, are their great Thirties looks and their screwball cutes. But this is a guy's show. And while the rest of the ensemble--including Mark Rubald, Brian McDonald, Paul Stolarsky and others--works together well enough, jumping cues just as they should and slapsticking each other in all the prescribed ways, they can't buck the material. It's just too lame.

And it certainly limps now, because even when it was new this play was never more than formulaic fatuousness. Great comedy is always based on real understanding of human nature--and nature is conspicuous by its absence from Room Service.--Mason

Room Service, through April 20 at the Denver Center Theatre, 14th and Curtis in the Plex, 893-4100.


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