Marx Brothers’ “Duck Soup”

...they actually managed to pull off the classic gags from the film with aplomb and they’re pretty good. Hail Fredonia!

The Merry MAC Players in Martinsville have the audacity to produce the Marx Brothers’ “Duck Soup”. Not only that, but the production, adapted for the stage by director Russell McGee with Hayden Moore and Shani Wahrman, promises improvements on the original film. Specifically, the trio has cleaned up some dangling dialog. They’ve added back routines that were cut and three songs that were dropped from the film.

The first act of the Marx Brothers’ “Duck Soup” went quite well. It was funny, inventive and fast paced. Things didn’t go so well in the second act. It bogged down a bit. Perhaps putting those additional pieces back into the mix was a problem. I wonder if getting the battling combatants off stage so that the satire on the politics could be carried out more expeditiously might help. However, all did indeed end well.

Music director Shani Wahrman has gotten a good choral sound from the group, especially for the frequent solemn interjections of the Fredonia national anthem and she’s artfully mixed recordings and live music for an overall effect. Generally, it’s not a cast with outstanding singers. There’s no vocal amplification, but the Martinsville Depot is an intimate theatre space. The best singing came in a duet with Aimee Taylor as an ingénue and Dennis Wilson. Tom Slater’s choreography did a nice job of furthering the action and also offering some nicely pointed satire.

Of course, what I was really wondering about was how the Merry MAC Player’s actors would match up to the film cast. Daniel Petrie is quite a commendable in Groucho Marx’s role as Rufus T. Firefly. The flamingly red headed Hayden Moore is every bit as funny as Harpo and if anything more whimsically appealing. Nathan Stanger, despite being a good foot taller than Chico Marx, was very much that language muddling master. Dennis Wilson, looking a good deal more like Kenneth from “30 Rock” than Zeppo Marx, was funnier than Zeppo ever was. Now, are these guys as smooth and as polished as the Marx Brothers quartet? No!, but they actually managed to pull off the classic gags from the film with aplomb and they’re pretty good.

Other standouts included Stephenie Courter as a generous figure in the Margaret Dumont role. Doug Horn had great presence and restraint as the villainous ambassador. Zach Johnson was the much put upon lemonade vendor who wars with Chico’s peanut stand. Laura Dwigans had great aplomb as the general lackey.

The Merry MAC Players production of the Marx Brothers’ “Duck Soup” plays Friday and Saturday at eight and Sunday at two through June 28th at The Depot in Martinsville.

Marx Brothers’ “Duck Soup”
Adapted for the stage by Russell, McGee, Hayden Moore and Shani Wahrman
Director Russell McGee
Musical Director Shani Wahrman
Choreographer Tom Slater
Merry MAC Players
June 19-21 and 26-28, 2009

George Walker

After completing an M.A.T. degree in English at Indiana University, George Walker began announcing for WFIU in 1967. Along with regularly hosting classical music shows, he interviews artists and reviews plays and operas.

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