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Theatre in Review: Two's a Crowd (59E59)

Rita Ruder. Photo: Carol Rosegg.

Following the write-what-you-know principle, Rita Rudner's new musical is set in Las Vegas, where she has long been a fixture on the Strip. Too bad that the book for Two's a Crowd, which she wrote with Martin Bergman, her husband and creative partner, doesn't import some of the humor that has made her one of the town's top comedy acts. In the parlance of gambling -- Vegas' other chief pastime -- this one rolls snake eyes.

Two's a Crowd is a meet-cute situation in search of a musical. Wendy Solomon and Tom Marcus, both in their sixties and traveling alone, have been accidentally booked into the same Vegas hotel room. Tom is in town for a poker tournament; the previous year, he came in four thousand, four hundred, and fifty first out of twelve thousand contenders and this time he hopes to do better. Wendy's marriage is in a sudden state of collapse, her husband having run off with his twenty-five-year-old personal trainer. Neither is willing to surrender the room and they're aren't getting much help from the hotel. Finally, a manager tells them that the place is booked solid and offers to provide an additional single bed.

This situation unleashes a tsunami of gags sorely in need of a laugh track. Wendy is an enameled matron with a host of neuroses and exacting standards -- she has brought her own sheets and looks forward to an evening of scrubbing the grout on the bathroom floor. Tom is an old-clothes, gimme-a-beer, guy's-guy type. Of course, they immediately get on each other's nerves. While trying to get the hotel's management on the phone, she insists on keeping the room's door open. When he wonders why, she replies, "Please. I watch the evening news. Close that door and five minutes later my head's in the mini-bar fridge." When she complains that he isn't behaving appropriately, he snaps, "Sorry, lady. I didn't get my copy of The Menopause Monthly." Further responding to her nagging, he says, "Takes a lot to make me wish I was at the proctologist." Defending herself, she insists, "I'll have you know many people consider me a lot of fun." "Who?" he asks. "Amish accountants?"

If any of this strikes you as funny, head directly to 59E59, where you will be rolling in the aisles. You'll also find punchless punchlines about puppeteers, kombucha, Uber, Dom DeLuise, the city of Branson, Tinder, Dr. Phil, Instagram, the Beatles, Shark Tank, and a cocktail known as a Fluffy Duck. Some sequences, including a riff on the digital cloud, sound like portions of Rudner's act that have been inserted into the dialogue. Every so often, the action is interrupted by country and/or folk-inflected songs, with music and lyrics by Jason Feddy, that do little or nothing to amplify the characters or move along the story. Several of them are sung by Feddy himself -- he serves as musical director -- standing on a staircase next to the action. The effect is rather like watching a play interrupted occasionally by cuts from a pop album.

As Tom and Wendy embark on a most improbable fling, you will have to take your pleasures where you find them. Looking chic and svelte, her default facial expression that of a startled giraffe, Rudner certainly has her delivery down pat. A Broadway baby -- she appeared in several musicals early in her career -- she would have been a definite asset in the heyday of Neil Simon and Bernard Slade; too bad she hasn't provided herself with commensurate material. She occasionally amuses, for example when carefully arranging herself on the bed in what she assumes is a seductive position, or musing on the challenges facing women of a certain age. ("I'm afraid to watch a television show I like. If they find out my demographic watches it, they'll cancel it.") As Tom, the musical theatre veteran Robert Yacko offers a big voice and plenty of easygoing charm; it would be a treat to see him in a better show. Offering solid support are Kelly Holden Bashar as a cheerfully unhelpful hotel manager and a soulful Russian maid, and Brian Lohmann in various roles, including the Act II surprise visitor who supplies the main plot twist.

Bergman's direction doesn't solve the show's stop-and-start quality, especially in handling scenes that end without much of a button, followed by a slight pause until the next number is ready. The production design is better than solid. Set designer Tessa Ann Bookwalter has clearly studied her Vegas hotels and her lighting is all right, too. Jonathan Burke's sound design is clear and crisp. No costume designer is credited.

Two's a Crowd is the kind of entertainment that likes to present itself as an audience show, not intended for snooty critics; in truth, at the performance I attended, the lines got little more than mild titters and the numbers earned only scattered applause. The show has been done in Laguna Beach, California and now New York. Note that it hasn't played Vegas; after all, Rudner has a reputation to maintain. -- David Barbour

(22 July 2019)

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