Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

June 30, 2013

Animal Crackers

Williamstown Theatre Festival, Williamstown, MA
through July 13, 2013
by Shera Cohen

For those familiar with the loony non-stop humor of the Marx Brothers, “Animal Crackers” is the consummate impetus to reminisce. For those who have never seen this crazy trio on celluloid, be prepared to thoroughly enjoy the wackiness of the actors portraying Groucho, Chico, and Harpo.

At its core, “Animal Crackers” is a dressed-up outlet for the brothers to perform their one-liner shtick, fast banter, risqué jokes, and pratfalls. Wrapped around this Borsht Beltish repartee is a flimsy and funny script that balances perfectly with these shenanigans. In what, on the surface, looks and feels a slightly unrehearsed, sometimes ad-libbed free-for-all, is a well-crafted production with room for anything. For example, while there is no rubber chicken, a rubber duck suffices.

Humor is what propels the play at its speedy pace, but there is far more to “Animal Crackers.” With music by Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby, melodies like “Why Am I So Romantic” and those with ridiculously funny lyrics like “Keep Your Undershirt On,” abound. Of course, musicals require dance, and lots of it. “Three Little Words” highlights a spectacular dance duo quick at tap, soft shoe, jazz step, and Charleston. “Long Island Low Down” features the entire cast in a lively romp.

The double proscenium arch creates a stage within a stage. In the center of the art deco-styled set is a seven-piece band in full tux, two large staircases, and giant cardboard chandelier. The band is terrific and plays an essential and unexpected part of the show, as do the stagehands, and some audience members. Costumes are elegant and hairdos are 1920’s.

While certainly a format for Marx Bros antics (kudos to the three actors who look, walk, and talk – well, Harpo doesn’t talk – exactly like the originals), “Crackers” is truly an ensemble production. Director/Adaptor Henry Wishcampter’s choice to cast each actor in double roles is curious. Although, all the more reason for recognizing and praising the troupe. Rarely is separate playbill credit given to Director of Physical Comedy, except in this case, as Paul Kalina must have worked his actors into a full play’s-worth of safe chaos.

“Animal Crackers” is goofy fun. Enjoy it.