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Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2010

Rep’s ‘Laurel and Hardy’ Mixes Laughs, Drama

Theater Review

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The Milwaukee Rep opens its second show of the new season with the U.S. premiere of Laurel and Hardy, Tom McGrath’s tribute to the comedy team from the Golden Age of cinema. The show graces the Rep’s most intimate stage, the Stackner Cabaret, in a production directed by Resident Acting Company Member Laura Gordon.

McGrath’s script envisions a meeting between Laurel and Hardy in the afterlife. The two discuss their lives in a style that drifts from vaudevillian comedy in the beginning to a feeling of early cinema toward the end of the show. Gerard Neugent plays Stan Laurel with great attention to detail; his likeness is positively uncanny at times. Bill Theisen’s Oliver Hardy is played with similar precision. Both Neugent and Theisen steer away from superficial impersonations to render an in-depth exploration of these early Hollywood film icons.

McGrath’s script features some nostalgic moments from the duo’s films, but Laurel and Hardy doesn’t begin and end there. Instead, the script goes beyond the nostalgia to gaze into the deeper issues the pair had to face beyond stage and screen. We see the comedians move from separate careers in vaudeville to their first pairing in Hollywood before intermission. The journey from silent movies to talkies happens in an instant afterward. From there the behind-the-scenes action gets reallyinteresting, as Laurel tries to convince his partner that they would enjoy greater creative freedom by producing their own work. Drama mixes with comedy in a touching, stylish performance that is sharply executed by Neugent and Theisen.

The Milwaukee Rep’s production of Laurel and Hardy runs through Nov. 14 at the Stackner Cabaret.