SALT LAKE CITY — A Night at the Imperial, written by one of the theater’s own Cody K. Carlson, is a slapstick comedy in the style of the Three Stooges. Though it had potential, the show was much better written than performed. A Night at the Imperial had such a need for perfect timing that without the majority of the movements happening fluidly, it quickly lost its luster for me. Hopefully the Off-Broadway Theater will produce this show again with a cast that is able to accomplish the task.
My date and I walked down the big city sidewalk along a strip of storefronts to reach the Off-Broadway Theater and entered a bright, fun, colorful environment filled with the smells of popcorn and grandma’s furniture. I found my seat and sat down, enjoying the large, springy old red fuzzy seat that was surprisingly comfortable as it slightly reclined with my 115 lb weight, moving almost like a rocking chair. I felt like a kid on Santa’s lap, waiting to receive my gift of a highly entertaining show. I was there about five years ago for the funniest live Dr. Who parody ever, and I was excited for another adventure.
Carlson certainly put a lot of creativity into his script. A Night at the Imperial is a slapstick comedy set in the 1930’s and starts off with a con man and his sidekick trying to keep the money flowing in. They have been living in a restaurant under the guise of opening it for business. Instead they trick their investor and use the money to get by without working. Eventually they are found out and pandemonium ensues with the cops, some chefs, and somewhat true love ending in a surprising resolution.
The set was beautifully painted in the fashion of a high-end restaurant. However, from the moment the actors began, it was clear that it would be a long night. The pace started out slow in that first scene, and only after a few scenes into the show did I realize they were attempting to perform slapstick comedy. The realization took a while because of the poor comedic timing and the way the actors performed.
Clint Coltrin, playing Fink, was able to act over-the-top without taking me out of the show. His performance throughout was enjoyable, especially the little movements he did, like sticking his feet up on the table. He had so many witty remarks and delivered them quickly and effortlessly, which added to the humor of his lines. If he could have gotten the timing of those slaps, his performance would have been perfect. Justin Bradley was less convincing as the sidekick, George, at indicating emotions. George often seemed like a whiney kid, a characterization that did not support the show. Bradley was wonderful with stage presence and focus, but his emotions were so exaggerated in a cheesy way that my date and I felt like he was trying to manipulate us instead of creating a character. There were a lot of added movements to what he said that took away from the truth of his character, like biting his fist and cranking up his bent arm and fist like Mickey Mouse’s “oh boy” movement. These could have been actor choices or director choices, and rather than inciting applause from us, they got eye rolls.
Samantha Bruce, as she played Less, was more enjoyable. Less was a quiet presence in a big trench coat that would make me laugh as Bruce pulled various items out of her coat. It was enjoyable to see how well she got a lot of the timing down, especially in comparison to the other actors. Chris Harvey played Garibaldi with a wonderful accent and fantastic characterization fantastic.
A couple actors detracted from the show, namely Timothy Morrise as Mallow, and Phillip Kilcrease as Baker. They did not seem to play the character they were given, but rather performed as children on a playground, pretending to role play. I did not see any stern authority from Kilcrease playing a cop, and Mallow’s reaction to being treated unfairly by sitting down and going along with everything after he was “highly offended” was just not what a strict restaurant reviewer would have put up with. Bradley was also a part of this. My date and I could not believe his depiction of a con man. It was like a happy naive child who didn’t know that his partner was doing wrong, but at the same time putting up with abuse. This could have been partly problems with the script or the execution.
Amanda Gibson played VanderHelper well with her exaggerated British accent. Her wonderful facial expressions remind me of Lady Sneerwell from The School for Scandal. Her makeup distracted from her performance because the black age lines were so dark and obvious that it was uncomfortable to see. Buss Riley (playing Sass) had true emotion onstage, but without the focus. His eyes wandered about which lost a lot of the power he had from emotion.
Part of the loss of humor was due to poor directing. Zachari Michael Reynolds directed this show, and (along with the lack of timing for slapstick) he seemed to have trouble with pacing the play. There were moments that were stretched out too long, sich as one scene between Coltrin and Harvey where they were supposed to laugh and then look at each other and growl. The first two times, this was funny. Watching it four times was exasperating. Likewise, the first time Bradley screamed for Coltrin was funny, albeit obnoxous. The ensuing screams were painful. And with so many tedious moments, I’m inclined to agree with Coltrin when he claims the high point of the show is his singing “Mama’s Little Baby Loves Shortnin’” while dancing around the table.
While some actors in A Night at the Imperial were able to make me laugh, the show was not something I can recommend to go see. For a downtown venue and with its ticket price, I was disappointed. And to Harvey, who says jokingly after the show, “If you hate it, keep your mouth shut!” I say, sorry, I cannot keep my mouth shut. I am a reviewer.