Who Let the Clerks Out?

29 Sep
September 29, 2014

You may not be dazzled and it may leave you frazzled. It’s Tom Stoppard’s boisterous 1981 farce On the Razzle, which documents the adventures of two unsophisticated shop assistants “on the town” in 19th century Vienna.

The original play, written in 1842 by Austrian playwright Johann Nestroy, was titled Einen Jux will er sich machen, or He Will Have Himself a Good Time. Nearly a century later, in 1938, it was adapted by American playwright Thornton Wilder as The Merchant of Yonkers, and then, in 1955, as The Matchmaker. Which, in turn, became the smash musical Hello, Dolly!

Ironically, the only character from the original story who didn’t make it into Stoppard’s play is Dolly herself.

Those who did are the ferociously bullying Zangler (Andrew Walker), who owns the shop; his two clerks Weinberl and Christopher (Joey Jennings and Lacy Blake); Madame Knorr (Cathy Diane Tomlin), Zangler’s fiancée, her friend Frau Fischer (Maria Kress); and Zangler’s niece Marie (Chloe Rosenthal) and her penniless suitor Sonders (Frank Gangarossa).

This motley crew all winds up in party-time Vienna. Including the two clerks, who are supposed to be home minding Zangler’s store. The cast is augmented by seven other actors as well, many playing multiple characters. Such as Mary Garripoli, who plays a dim-witted servant as well as Miss Blumenblatt, Zangler’s sister-in-law

There’s also a strange gender switch that suggests an additional farcical move to explain it or right it, but that anticipated plot line never materializes. It arises from the fact that when On the Razzle premiered at the Royal National Theatre in London in 1981, the male clerk, Christopher, was inexplicably played by a woman. And so Lacy Blake, a petite and talented young woman, plays Christopher in this current version. And though you might be expecting her womanness to be revealed and for her to wind up in a paroxysm of love with her fellow clerk, Weinberl, that never happens. Although she would be a much more suitable match for Weinberl than the lady he winds up with: Frau Fischer. Fischer identifies herself as “elegant and under 40”, but she still appears to be a mismatch and much older than her ardent swain.

Yet another unexplained gender switch takes place with the role of Melchior, a fast-talking young man whom Zangler hires as his personal assistant. Melchior, wearing a buzz cut, a derby, and a perpetual frown, is actually an actress, Jeanine Anderson.

Like all farces, On the Razzle is replete with lots of running around, banging of doors, miscommunications, misunderstandings, misidentifications, and frantic hiding out. This play, however, is generously built on puns, double entendres, and sexual innuendoes. Some of them funny, others elusive. Stoppard himself has admitted that he had to rewrite much of the humor and dialogue, as the Austrian version is filled with site-specific allusions, colloquialisms, and multiple puns that don’t translate well.

Pete Parkin, who directs this robust ensemble, has steered them to an “all’s well that ends well” conclusion and to especially notable performances by Andrew Walker as the blustering Zangler, Joey Jennings as the didactic clerk Weinberl, and Lacy Blake as the ingratiating Christopher.

On the Razzle will run Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 2 through November 2nd at Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West in Los Angeles. For reservations, call (323) 851-7977 or visit www.theatrewest.org.

Photo: Cathy Diane Tomlin, Maria Kress, Joey Jennings, and Lacy Blake
Photo by Charlie Mount

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