by Shirley Lorraine
Hijinks Abound in Ojai’s Animal Crackers
In the mood for something simply silly, extremely funny and nostalgic to lighten the stress of the season? Animal Crackers now playing on the Ojai Art Center Stage will certainly fill the bill quite nicely. The musical with book by George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind features music and lyrics by Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby.
Director John Medeiros gives the famous Marx Brothers their due in this re-creation of the 1930 film which was based on a Marx Brothers Broadway stage show. For many of us, the journey is nostalgic – back to an earlier time of rapid-fire clean comedy and physical gags fueled by the desire to just make the audience laugh. In addition, the production introduces a new generation (or two) to the comedy and musical genius of the entertaining brothers.
For the initiates, the Marx Brothers are widely known as the epitome of comedy, inspiring scores of actors and comedians for decades. Prior to Laurel and Hardy, the three Stooges and Saturday Night Live, the Brothers set the scene for low-brow hijinks across the board.
In Animal Crackers, as in all Marx Brothers films, the primary focus is satirization of high society moirés. This one plays into that theme with explorer Captain Spaulding (AKA Groucho, played by Sean Mason) being invited to a ritzy party at the home of society matron Mrs. Rittenhouse (played with panache by Tracey Sutton), and subsequently causing havoc when a painting is stolen. Chico (Daniel Mitchell), Zeppo (James Alderete) and Harpo (Anna Kotula) all bring their own mayhem to the affair.
On a technical level, the production is top-notch. The elegant Art Deco style setting designed by Kenny Dahle is beautifully embellished by the creative and colorful costuming credited to Haley Weed and Celia Williams. All the leads were outfitted with microphones and worked well with the recorded score. The play features some lovely singing voices, particularly those of KiSea Katikka and Amanda Ballinger, as well as crisp choreography by Anna Kotula. True to form of the era, there is some fancy footwork in spots, most notably the tap number in the first act featuring Ezra Eells and KiSea Katikka.
The action is fast, deliberately confusing and utterly delightful. The actors portraying the four Marx Brothers live up to their iconic role-models in fine fashion. Mason, as Groucho, carries a good deal of the show and is consistent with the recognizable walk, vocal style, look and signature facial gestures. Not to be outdone, Kotula is a hoot as the mute Harpo spurred on by Mitchell as the self-proclaimed Italian Chico. Zeppo (James Alderete) is the one straight-man in the goofy group.
Medieros’ influence as a master rubber-faced comedian is easily seen in all the actors, with roles large and small. He has infused the cast with a real sense of the fun of being silly for a purpose. The entire cast is clearly having a ball, reveling in outrageously overdone characterizations. Relax, settle back and prepare to enjoy a slice of different holiday fare.
Ojai Art Center Theater, 113 S. Montgomery Street, (805) 640-8797 www.OjaiACT.org
All seats $20, Seniors &Art Center Members $15, Students $15. Friday and Saturday shows begin at 7:30 p.m., Sundays 2:00 p.m. through December 17.