Few productions can be funnier than plays about actors. Their egos, their quarrels, their financial woes — it's all fodder for playwrights who have to deal with actors and find that writing about them in a less-than-flattering light can be sweet revenge.
An award-winning cast opens a "stage story" favorite Thursday at the Forum at Stage West Community Playhouse. George Herman's 1963 A Company of Wayward Saints is the tale of nine members of a 16th century Renaissance Italian commedia dell'arte troupe trying to earn their way back home after a less-than-successful road tour.
By good fortune, a wealthy local duke (sometimes played by an unsuspecting member of the audience) agrees to pay their way if they put on a pleasing show depicting the history of all mankind.
The troupe manager, Harlequin (Dalton Benson, seven-time HAMI winner, including Franklin in 1776), tries to corral his wayward actors to do the show, despite the egos and quarrels and even the harassment of his sharp-tongued wife, Columbine (Lynda Dilts-Benson, four-time HAMI winner, including Betty in The Foreigner).
His first attempt, in Act 1, is a hopeless cause, as the showoff Scapino (W. Paul Wade, four HAMIs, including Benny in Epic Proportions), who sees himself as the spiritual son of Harlequin, cavorts around the stage causing nothing but mischief, and young lovers Tristano (Jeff Germann, HAMI for Clowns) and Isabella (Jessica Virginia (HAMI for Catherine in Foreigner) have eyes only for each other.
The actors attempt to do scenes from The Garden of Eden and The Voyage of Odysseus, but they are all too intent on upstaging each other to make much sense.
Perhaps they're distracted by the beautiful Ruffiana (Jessica Nichole, three HAMIs, including Eliza in My Fair Lady), who flirts with all the fellows; the blustery windbag Capitano (George Friel, HAMI as Barrymore in I Hate Hamlet); the ailing, deluded and delusional Pantalone (Allen Voorhees); and/or the pompous Dottore (Brian Brijbag), who sweeps around the stage spouting incomprehensible Latin phrases, all of them muddling matters more.
Everything seems to be hopelessly out of control by the end of the first act, but as the actors come back for the second act, they realize the seriousness of their situation. They change the show from The History of Man to The History of Everyman and soberly delve into the human condition.
And they realize that if they want to get what they want (in this case, to get home), they must work with each other — a timely lesson for all times.