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Stage Review : 'Washington Slept Here' Is Satisfying Slapstick

July 11, 1986|CHALON SMITH

There's nothing drowsy about Golden West College's handling of "George Washington Slept Here." It's a spry, quickly paced production that capitalizes on the helter-skelter momentum that Kaufman and Hart intended for this tale of a city boy brought to his knees by country living.

The 1940 comedy is not considered one of Kaufman and Hart's best works; it lacks the intricacy and pungent wit of "The Man Who Came to Dinner" (1939) and "You Can't Take It With You" (1936). But the slapstick flavor as the play's naive hero faces one bucolic indignity after another generates satisfying laughs, and the Golden West revival is, at the least, satisfying.

Newton Fuller (played by Karsten Musaeus) is a modern man with an old-fashioned yearning to leave the city behind. He's an unabashed romantic who envisions bliss in open fields, warbling songbirds and full moons unmarred by downtown lights. His wife, Annabelle (Cynthia Piazza), isn't so sure, especially when Newton drags her to a barn-like Pennsylvania house that supposedly once sheltered George Washington.

While Newton waxes about the wilderness and frontier spirit, Annabelle rightfully complains about the reality just under her nose. Their 200-year-old home is a ruin with no water, no bathroom and has cows and horses strolling through the kitchen. Steven Wolff Craig's spacious set is a disaster zone of lopsided doors, collapsing chairs, smoking fireplaces and a living room decorated with plows and wheelbarrows.

But Newton is unbowed, and eventually his wife begins to share his enthusiasm. It's a short-lived joy, however. Newton's dumped too much cash into digging for water and can't make the mortgage payments. Threatened with foreclosure, the family and assorted visitors spend much of the last act drinking and wobbling toward an improbable but funny climax.

Director Stewart Rogers gets much of the credit for the farce's success. His timing and faithful adherence to Kaufman and Hart's vaudevillian approach keeps it lively. He has some trouble maintaining balance in the second act when several characters are introduced (the stage gets as crowded as a chicken coop) but regains control by the last act.

The cast is also able. Piazza stands out with her sassy and suffering Annabelle who sometimes seems like the only rational voice on board. As Newton, Musaeus is a little spotty; his mincing mannerisms are comically right on at times, but other times he's too fidgety and self-absorbed to be really amusing. Also noteworthy are supporting actors Kim Fox as the doubting farmhand, Mr. Kimber; Sharon Shedivy as Rena Lewis, the actress who wears affectations as thick as her makeup, and Robert Cavanagh as bored and boring Uncle Stanley.

"George Washington Slept Here" plays through July 19 at the Golden West College Patio Theater near the Gothard Street side of the campus. Call (714) 895-8378 for more information.

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