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Fast-paced 'Buffalo' heats up Theatre Factory stage

| Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
'Charlotte', Renee Ruzzi-Kern, (L), of Pittsburgh, and 'George' Weston Blakesley, of Lawrenceville, rehearse a scene at the Theatre Factory in Trafford on Saturday afternoon, February 2, 2013, of the upcoming Theatre Factory production of 'Moon over Buffalo', under direction of F.J. Hartland, of South Park. Kim Stepinsky | For The Tribune-Review
'Charlotte', Renee Ruzzi-Kern, (L), of Pittsburgh, and 'George' Weston Blakesley, of Lawrenceville, rehearse a scene at the Theatre Factory in Trafford on Saturday afternoon, February 2, 2013, of the upcoming Theatre Factory production of 'Moon over Buffalo', under direction of F.J. Hartland, of South Park. Kim Stepinsky | For The Tribune-Review

Looking for a cure for the winter blues? Director F.J. Hartland says that Theatre Factory's latest production, “Moon Over Buffalo,” will do the trick.

“If anyone is feeling down or going crazy with cabin fever, this show is good for what ails you. It's just laugh-out-loud funny,” he says.

Ken Ludwig's farce that starred Carol Burnett on Broadway nearly two decades ago centers on a famous acting duo, George and Charlotte Hay, who are performing two plays in repertory, “Cyrano de Bergerac” and “Private Lives.” They receive news that famous director Frank Capra is planning to attend a performance and possibly offer them starring roles in his movie, “The Scarlet Pimpernel.”

What follows is a parade of mistaken identities, misunderstandings, humorous situations and a necessary ingredient of the best farces, plenty of opening and closing doors.

The combination keeps Hartland on his toes.

“With a farce, pacing is everything. It must go at a break-neck rate. Those doors also have to keep slamming,” the director says. “The extra challenge in ‘Moon Over Buffalo' is a kind of play-within-a-play. We not only have the challenge of doing a farce, but also re-creating the style of those other two plays. Then, there's also the sword fighting.”

Hartland says his job is made a lot easier by an experienced cast that includes veteran funny woman Barbara Russell, best known as the former comedy partner of the late Pittsburgh comedian Don Brockett. She portrays wise-cracking grandma Ethel and says she was happy to join the cast of the Theatre Factory production.

“Let's face it, there are fewer and fewer roles for the older woman anywhere,” Russell says, “so when there is a show that has such a role and the theater has a good reputation for doing shows in a professional manner — and if they are able to offer an Equity contract — I'm interested.”

At 79, Russell says she has had the good fortune to play several “great ladies” in stage productions — from Mrs. Hardcastle in “She Stoops to Conquer” and Mrs. Malaprop in “The Rivals” for the Pittsburgh Irish and Classical Theatre, to Lady Bracknell in “The Importance of Being Earnest” and Foncia Dorsey in “The Gin Game.”

Her “dream job” is to do voice-over work as a character in an animated movie. But until that comes along, she is content working as a teaching artist for Gateway to the Arts, showing preschool teachers how to integrate drama techniques in their lessons.

Hartland's credits include directing the musical “tick...tick...BOOM” for 12 Peers Theatre, Pittsburgh, and portraying Owen Musser in “The Foreigner” at St. Vincent Summer Theatre. Also a playwright, his play “Smoke and Fire” was performed last fall in the Pittsburgh New Works Festival. This spring, he will direct a new play, “Becoming Ruth,” at Off The Wall in Carnegie.

Actor Bill Crean plays Richard Maynard, a role he describes as “the squarest character on a stage filled with well-rounded characters.” He says he wanted to audition for “Moon Over Buffalo” because of the venue and people involved with the show.

“I think F.J. has put together a great cast. The audience is in for a fun ride,” he says.

Candy Williams is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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