George S. Kaufman wrote “The Butter and Egg Man” in 1925, when Broadway was the glammy show-biz center of the world. The play is Kaufman’s valentine to the sharpies who ran that world and the hopeless hicks from Chillicothe, Ohio, who were desperate to break into it (the butter and egg men).
The Company of Angels takes an amiable shot at this sweet farce. Oddly, director Dennis Redfield coaxes funny performances from most of his cast while leaving a few stranded in summer-stock hell.
As Peter Jones, the young man from Chillicothe who brings his nest egg to Times Square, Hank Rogerson recalls Harold Lloyd. His excitable manner makes him seem a real bonehead, but his hidden qualities include a scrap of instinct and a knack for sheer, dumb luck. His supposed executioners--the hard-boiled producers who take his check before the ink is dry--are Art LaFleur and Don Oscar Smith, men with perfect big-lug faces that would have caused Preston Sturges to plotz. As the smart, good-girl secretary, Katherine Lessner is nicely centered in a universe of megalomania.
In the funniest scene, a flock of “experts,” including a switchboard operator and a bellboy, gather in a hotel room to fix a troubled show. Bob Ballew is hilarious as an ascot-wearing has-been director--it’s as if John Barrymore lives again. Other performances are perplexingly wrongheaded, including Ivy Jones as an aging ingenue who frantically performs the Charleston in the middle of a sentence to display her charm. As a retired vaudevillian, Susan Kussman sticks her chest out so far she seems to be trying to cause something to roll off it. She’s much better in the second act, when she’s sitting down.
“The Butter and Egg Man,” Angels Theatre, 2106 Hyperion Ave., Silver Lake, Friday-Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 7 p.m. Ends April 5. $15. (213) 660-8587. Running time: 2 hours.