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A CurtainUp Review
Three Men on a Horse

I'd never cheat anybody — Erwin
3Men on a Horse
L to R: Julianna Zinkel. Gregory Salata, Geoffrey Molloy
(Photo: Stephen Kunken)
The last time I saw this 1935 comedy about a nebbish who knows how to pick a winner was in 1993. The renowned director George Abbott, who co-authored Three Men on a Horse with John Cecil Holm was in the audience and about to celebrate his 105th birthday. As I wished him well, his wife turned to me and said, "You know, he still plays golf." I thought "How great is that?"

For this production at the Beckett Theater, a horse race was about to begin. A racing form has been placed in our program. I've been to the track a few times in my life, placed a bet —sometimes winning, mostly losing. Just before the curtain rises (yes, there is a curtain— How Great Is That?) on Act 1 of the latest Three Men on a Horse the audience at the Beckett Theater is asked to pick a horse on the racing form that is placed in our program. A horse race was about to begin.

We can see the cardboard horses and riders all lined up atop the curtain on the far right. We are asked to put a check next to the name of the horse that we think might win and then give the name we've picked to the shill waiting at the end of the aisle to write it down. We are told that the winner will receive $100 in cash to be picked up at intermission with proof that you had checked off the name of the horse that won. How great is that?

The race begins. The horses crowd each other as they make their way across the top of the curtain, one brushing past another only to lose ground as another horse noses past. The crowd roars, as the horse named Horseradish wins. It's my horse. How great is that? I can hardly wait for intermission.

Three Men on a Horse is an amiable antique about a nerd with a nose for choosing the winning horse. As silly fun might be defined, it is a mindless diversion that TACT/The Actors Company Theater is offering to audiences willing to be jockeyed into a receptive position. The excellent cast, under the direction Scott Alan Evans, leaves the starting gate in the right spirit and with the enabling flair that presumably kept Depression-era audiences entertained for a staggering (for its time) 835 performances.

If you are content with a plot that gets to where it has to without any surprises and are pleased to be in the company of characters who do and say exactly what you would expect, then you will be satisfied. To have a good time, which I did, is not an experience to be taken lightly. One of the unexpected joys of this production is the scenic design by Brett J. Banakis and its execution. Three times during the course of the play's three acts, the walls of a living room in Ozone Heights, New Jersey are swiftly shifted and turned around to become a barroom in the Lavillere Hotel, New York City. It is as slickly maneuvered as are the characters within them.

Erwin (Geoffrey Molloy), a Casper Milquetoast-ed verse writer for a greeting card company has decided he's too moral to bet his own money on a horse race. So while, his wife Audrey (Becky Baumwoll) and his brother-in-law Clarence (Scott Schafer) think he's been stashing it away, Erwin allows himself to be duped into abetting a trio of ruthless, if predictably bumbling gamblers, played with affable toughness by Jeffrey C. Hawkins, Don Burroughs and Gregory Salata. I won't tell you anymore.

Molloy plays Erwin as if all his immodestly delayed responses were the direct result of his being kicked in the head by a horse's hoof when he was a child. It is presumably a style that is called for and one that Molloy deploys very well. As Audrey, Baumwoll spends a lot of time crying and trying to figure out heaven knows what. As the greedy, trouble-making brother-in-law, Schafer joins her in sibling stupidity.

The play's most pleasurable moments are those that involve the Runyon-esque characters: Burroughs as the suave Patsy, Hawkins, as his sidekick Charlie, Salata as the lummox Charlie, and Ron McClary as Harry the good-natured bartender. It's always a good feeling when the obligatory tacky, squeaky-voiced blonde girlfriend, ex show-girl is on the marker. She is played delightfully by Julianna Zinkel. I enjoyed watching James Murtaugh flail around as the hyper-agitated boss of the greeting card company.

During intermission, I went up the aisle to the lobby to collect my $100. I was duped. To my surprise, I wasn't the only one being handed a $100 bill with The Actors Company Theater inscribed at the top and with a smiling picture of Shafer "the brother-in-law" in the center. Schafer has been a TACT Company member since 1996 performing in 47 productions. How great is that?

Three Men on a Horse
By John Cecil Holm & George Abbott
Directed by Scott Alan Evans

Cast: Becky Baumwoll (Audrey Trowbridge), Geoffrey Molloy (Erwin Trowbridge), Scott Schafer (Clarence Dobbins), Ron McClary (Harry, and Announcer), Jeffrey C. Hawkins (Charlie), Don Burroughs (Frankie), Gregory Salata (Patsy), Julianna Zinkel (Mabel), Kristen Vaphides (Maid), James Murtaugh (Mr. Carver), Dave Johnson (long-time Race Track Announcer)
Scenic Design: Brett J. Banakis
Costume Design: Martha Hally
Lighting Design: Mary Louise Geiger
Sound Design: Daryl Bornstein
Original Music: Joseph Trapanese
Running Time: 2 hours 20 minutes including two intermissions
Beckett Theatre, 410 West 42nd Street
(212) 239 - 6200
Tickets ($36.25 - $56.25) Performances: Monday and Wednesday - Friday at 7:30 PM; Saturday at 2 PM & 8 PM; Sunday at 3 PM.
Previews began 03/14/11
Opened 03/24/11
Ends 04/16/11
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 03/23/11
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