If you're like me, you love to watch people fall down. There's something delightfully silly about grown men stumbling into walls, or jumping on mattresses, or slamming doors at just the wrong moment. Nothing could tickle you more than a woman hiding in a closet, and when the door is opened by a jealous wife, she exclaims, "How do you do?"
This is the tone of Ken Ludwig's Lend Me a Tenor, a silly little comedy about a famous opera singer who swallows too many sedatives and must be replaced by a nervous assistant named Max, who happens to be an operatic tenor. Lots of women run around in their skivvies, the living are presumed dead, sex ensues and everybody lives happily (and confusedly) ever after. The dialogue is breakneck and actors shamelessly don blackface makeup. Even the eldest female is an aggressive trollop. This isn't any ordinary farce; it's the farciest farce since farce came to Farceville.
How tragic, then, that Little Lake Theatre and director Carol Lauck have decided to slow this play to a deadening crawl, draining Tenor of every comic opportunity. If delivering lines were like delivering parcels, half the best jokes would get lost in the mail. Unable to use their voices as adequate tools, these actors resort to flailing arm motions. And the Little Lake stage, confined and arranged in the round, causes all kinds of awkward traffic patterns, so that unlucky patrons struggle to remember what the actors' faces look like. This Tenor is like a cold reading that just happens to be blocked.
But there are three virtues to Little Lake's cursed production: The first is Warren Ashburn, who plays Tito, the tranquilized tenor. As the play's resident Italian, Tito is a two-hour, unapologetic ethnic slur, and Ashburn manages to play the delirious egomaniac without losing his accent. He is the only actor onstage with a remote sense of comic timing, and this talent saves the play's funniest scenes.
Meanwhile, Jesse Warnick, as Max, boasts a beautiful voice. He may mumble and stutter and pause, looking mysteriously sidelong after every line -- as if speaking to the unseen walls -- but it's clear that Warnick can really sing.
Finally, it's apparent that nobody in Canonsburg or McMurray gives a damn about awkward acting or the insufferable pacing. Audiences this past Sunday were numerous, attentive and hearty. We urban thespians can only be envious that this obscure community theater, as remote from Pittsburgh as they come, is so blithely loved.
Lend Me a Tenor continues thru Sun., Aug. 9. Little Lake Theatre, 500 Lakeside Dr., Canonsburg. 412-561-4402 or www.littlelaketheatre.org.