Reviewed by James Karas
**** (out of five)
The Shaw Festival’s Production of His Girl Friday is so full of energy and laughter that the audience needs to catch its breath at the end of the performance. Director Jim Mezon does make a few unfortunate gaffes but the end result is still a riotous comedy.
His Girl Friday is an adaptation of The Front Page by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur which premiered in 1928. The protagonists in the play were two men, a reporter and an editor but Columbia Pictures changed them to a man and a women for a movie version in 1940.
John Guare adopted the play for the stage and kept the protagonists as a man and a woman who are divorced.
His Girl Friday takes place in the press room of the criminal courts building of Chicago. It is August 1939 and an anarchist who killed a policeman is scheduled to be hanged in the morning. The press room is filled with an array of colourful reporters. The central story is that of reporter Hildy Johnson (Nicole Underhay) and her former boss and husband, the editor Walter Burns (Benedict Campbell).
One source of comedy is the reporters who are sparring for a story about Earl Holub (Andrew Bunker) the poor anarchist who is about to be executed. The rude and crude newspapermen have scant regard for or even interest in the truth – they just want a story that will sell papers. Director Jim Mezon orchestrates the reporters and the other characters in exemplary ensemble playing that provides a great deal of energy and laughter.
The main plotline is the relationship of Burns and Hildy. She has fallen in love with Bruce (Kevin Bundy) a hapless insurance salesman and Burns wants her back as his wife and as a reporter to cover the execution and expose the corruption of Chicago politicians.
Underhay and Campbell are a marvelously matched set for the verbal and physical comedy that the play provides. Both deliver their lines with speed, perfect timing and bravado. Bundy as the insurance man who is henpecked by his mother is a terrific foil for the two “lovers” as is his imperious mother played by Wendy Thatcher. Both of them are hilarious.
There are individually distinguished performances as well as the ensemble acting. Peter Krantz is hilarious as the corrupt sheriff as is Thom Marriott as the bullying and totally corrupt Mayor.
Lorne Kennedy has the small role of Pincus, the messenger but he turns it into a marvelous laugh-getter. Nothing is wasted in this production.
I think Andrew Bunker was miscast as Holub. He was not convincing as the anarchist who shot a cop. We could have done without characters speaking in unison at times. It went from unnecessary to annoying.
Aside from that it was an evening filled with laughter.______
His Girl Friday adapted by John Guare from The Front Page by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur and the Columbia Pictures film His Girl Friday runs from June 10 until October 5, 2012 at the Festival Theatre, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. www.shawfest.com.