Room Service

Ian Bonds, Peter Jensen, and Glenn Vitale. Photo by Tom Lauer.


Don’t Skip!

A Theater Review By Jeffrey F. Barken


Hurry! The hotel’s supervising director, Gregory Wagner (Peter Jensen), is on the elevator. The big man means business this time…

“I can’t take my luggage out, but we can wear a lot of clothes,” shifty Broadway producer, Gordon Miller (Eric C. Stein), suggests to his faithful assistants, Harry Binion (Lary Malkus) and Faker Englund (Don Kammann).

“Not again. Yes, again… such is life,” the trio implies as they fall into the routine of skipping out on an impossibly large hotel bill. Despite the seriousness of their situation, the three men seem accustomed to this side of show business, cracking jokes while hastily raiding Miller’s closet and putting on every jacket, sweater and tie he owns.  As far as they’re concerned, the show, “Godspeed,” that they’ve spent four months rehearsing at the White Way Hotel in Times Square is a bust. When Leo Davis (Greg Jericho), the naïve playwright turns up at the hotel expecting an advance on his share of the play’s profits, however, different instincts take hold and the group finds that they must put the show on at any cost.

Larry Malkus, Eric C. Stein, Greg Jericho, and Don Kammann. Photo by Tom Lauer.

Director Steven Goldklang’s rendition of the 1937 hit comedy by John Murray and Allen Boretz, “Room Service,” now playing at the Vagabond Theatre, April 12 through May 12, masterfully choreographs character body language, drawing laughs.  From the over-dramatic gestures of hotel waiter, Sasha Smirnoff (Mark Wible), the washed up Russian immigrant and former actor who seeks a lead role in “Godspeed,” to the shaken and hopelessly weak hotel manager and brother-in-law to Miller, Joseph Gribble (Ian Bonds), backs are against the wall, and everybody is balancing delusions of grandeur with one foot in the door to success and the other on the fire escape.

Confounding the situation, Miller has packed the hotel with the play’s 20 actors and has generously fronted their room service bills.  Now he and his cronies must dodge Wagner’s attempts to hold his guests accountable at every turn while desperately seeking a last minute backer for the play. Davis’ arrival presents both complications and opportunities for Miller to buy time. Audiences will delight in watching Davis fake the measles and even death as Miller and Binion exchange roles in his play for food and send a collection agent (Bruce Levy), on wild goose chases throughout New York City.

The original script evokes a time when the Great Depression had rendered the “bum’s life” commonplace. Only men and women, who have seen their dreams dashed too many times before have the ability to shrug their shoulders nonchalantly when facing imminent bankruptcy. Likewise, “Room Service” celebrates a uniquely American characteristic, the impulse to lift oneself up by the bootstraps, say “what the hell,” and start scheming to get rich all over again.

Miller, Binion, Davis, Smirnoff, Gribble, even Wagner are all trapped in the tough luck economy, forced to wrangle with each other for an equitable share of the risk inherent in putting on Davis’ play. Luckily, good hearts prevail and nobody gets the bum’s rush without first receiving a fair trial. Wagner, who fears his promotion to president is on the line, must first consider the constraints of morality when dealing with Miller and his troop. After all, would a decent man really be so cruel as to kick a sick boy out of his hotel bed? Is it fair to hold Gribble responsible for Miller’s debt? Wagner is at his wit’s end negotiating with the theatre types who have invaded his hotel.

Larry Malkus, Eric C. Stein, and Greg Jericho. Photo by Tom Lauer.

The bizarre content of “Godspeed,” a play billed as an historical fantasy featuring Presidents George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, is amusing in it’s own right, and newsflashes that Sasha Smirnoff is a sensation on the stage despite his heavy accent, augment the chaos unfolding in Miller’s hotel room. Likewise, Miller’s antics keep audiences laughing long into the night. Despite a visit by Dr. Glass (Glen Vitale), who correctly assesses Davis’ condition to be a hoax, and a botched meeting with potential backer, Simon Jenkins (Tim Wolf), Miller is quick witted and there seems to be no limit to how low he will stoop in order to save the show.

A terrific set design by Roy Steinman, affords Goldklang the opportunity to have the majority of his large cast onstage simultaneously. There is a lot going on at once and a single, well-placed mirror neatly divides the action, permitting audiences to observe the numerous side conversations and character gestures that spice up the narrative with additional humor. The original Room Service script is timeless and this cast pulls off a fantastic performance. Hurry down to the Vagabond Theatre this month before anybody skips town!


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