Most people don't think about O. Henry and The Marx Brothers as contemporaries. But most people aren't Rich Warren, who has performed in the annual ``5 by O. Henry' presentation and is also the playwright, director and star of ``Why a Duck? A Celebration of the Marx Brothers.'
It was Warren's idea to hold a fund-raiser for ``5 by O. Henry' by staging ``Why a Duck?' Sunday night to a receptive crowd of comedy fans.The Marx Brothers were born in a different century and reached the height of their fame before World War II. But as entertainers and comedy writers, their influence has shown up in every comedy troupe from Abbott and Costello to Lewis and Martin and from The Monkees to The Kids in the Hall.
``Why a Duck?' concentrates on the four major members of the team: Chico/Leonard (Joe Ritorto), who played the piano and spoke with an Italian accent; Harpo/Adolph (Vance Weatherly), who honked a horn instead of talking; Groucho/Julius (Warren), the jokester with the cigar and painted-on mustache; and Zeppo/Herbert (Chris Laney), who played romantic leads in the first five movies before becoming a Hollywood agent. Gummo/Milton, in this play as in life, was dispensable.
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``Why a Duck?' touches on the lives of all the brothers interspersed with familiar scenes, such as the bridge game from ``Animal Crackers,' the Maurice Chevalier bit from ``Monkey Business,' the party-of-the-first-part contract from ``A Night at the Opera,' and, of course, the viaduct routine from ``Cocoanuts.'
Some of the nostalgic songs - ``Hello, I Must Be Going,' ``Hooray for Captain Spaulding' and ``Lydia, the Tattooed Lady' - also contribute to the fun.
You'll miss a couple of familiar bits, notably the mirror sequence from ``Duck Soup' (and ``I Love Lucy'). And Harpo's harp playing is forgotten, although it's understandable that male actor/harp players are hard to come by in the Piedmont.
Warren is very good as Groucho, aging 50 years or so and doing a fine impression rather than an imitation. Laney and Weatherly are also good, but Ritorto seemed uncertain with many of his lines. Renee Ashcroft played all the women's roles but changed little but her clothes whether playing one of Groucho's trophy wives or the snooty Margaret Dumont.
The evening, like ``5 by O. Henry' itself, was underwritten by Quaintance-Weaver Hotels and Restaurants and staged in an O. Henry Hotel ballroom. While lovely, the room wasn't the best venue, with obstructed and limited viewing beyond the first few rows. Variations in lighting, which would have made a smoother segue, also were unavailable.
'Why a Duck?' will have two encore shows in the Greensboro Historical Museum's theatre at 8 p.m. Dec. 10-11. For information, call 373-2949.
The additional shows not only will allow more area comedy fans to catch the show, but also will give In the Round Productions a more suitable theatre space and a few more rehearsals to pull everything together.