Frank Ferrante in An Evening With Groucho, Directed by Dreya Webb, ACT - A Contemporary Theatre, Bullit Cabaret, through 30 June.
This afternoon, as opposed to my self-determined task of reorganizing some bookshelves and getting some more boxes ready for my Ebay Mistress, Anne, I snuck out to catch An Evening with Groucho at the ACT (yeah, it should be An Afternoon with Groucho, but if you're going to pick nits, you're reading the wrong blog).
Now, I knew where the ACT was - it was on the lower floor of the convention center, so parking was fairly easy (always an important thing for theater-going downtown), and it would be a quick park, then down a couple escalators through the heart of the convention center to get there. What I did not expect was corridor from the convention center, followed by corridor, followed by a twenty-square room with multiple exits, followed by more stairs, followed by another corridor/lobby, followed by MORE stairs followed by another lobby followed by STILL MORE stairs to reach the depths of the Bullit Cabaret. I think there was another flight of stairs down beyond this but Dante was coming up the other way.
Anyway, the Cabaret was a open space with general seating and a perimeter balcony and a low stage along one side. The room was about half-filled with chairs, and the chairs were half-filled by customers. A nice house, but not a sell-out, which is kind of a pity, since this is a very good show, and worth more attention that it has gotten.
[And to be honest, I knew about this show from an ad in the Stranger, which I had only picked up in physical space because in had the SIFF film list in it. And THEN it only stuck because Mark Evanier (who can be found on the blogroll to the side) is a faithful and relentless promoter of Mr. Ferrante and mentions him fairly regularly.]
Anyway, this is a one-man show about Groucho, and there are songs and stories, and joking with the audience and nostalgia in droves. But to say Frank Ferrante is a Groucho impersonator is to misrepresent what is happening here. He actually seems to embody Groucho. The transformation is amazing. He takes the stage and speaks as himself, telling a story of himself seeing Groucho as a child. His accent is Southern California, one that I've heard in the wild before. Yet as he tells the story, he fluffs out his hair, applies the greasepaint mustache and eyebrows, dons the glasses and with the last plucking of a cigar from the table suddenly embodies the comedian. Uncanny is the word. Not to back up over the Oregon Shakespeare Festivals' presentation of Animal Crackers, but in that version I never lost the fact that I was watching an actor playing Groucho. Here the transition was complete.
I have also never seen an actor fight so hard to engage the audience (and win). This was a Sunday matinee, Seattle-polite audience where the average age was higher than my current recording of years. Yet Mr. Ferrante engaged at full tilt, using the ability that Groucho had to insult without being insulting. He flirted with the three ladies with canes in the front row. He made doe-eyes at a middle-aged woman sitting with her husband. He sent one of the ushers out for coffee for said husband. He plunked a young man from the audience and decked him out with the trademarked mustache and eyebrows. The tech crew running the house lights had trouble keeping up with him as he leapt off the stage and back. It was a matinee crowd in the depths of a theater complex in downtown Seattle, but by jingo, this was HIS crowd!
And it worked. By the end of the first act everyone was charmed, by the end of the second everyone was enthralled. And I felt like I was falling through time as well, as the stories moved from the vaudeville Groucho to the movie Groucho to the television Groucho, and with it the way Ferrante portrayed the man. And, just as Groucho needed Zeppo and Margaret Dumont as his straight-men, Ferrante is ably supported by his accompanist, Mark Rabe, who not only delivered a spritely score on the piano but also served as foil for Ferrante/Groucho.
This was an impressive show, and I was glad to have caught it. And seriously, if you are any sort of a Groucho fan, you should check it out yourself.
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