THREE MEN ON A HORSE by John Cecil Holm and George Abbott, directed by Jim Mezon, with Kevin Bundy, Simon Bradbury, Peter Hutt, Jeff Lillico, Peter Millard and Glynis Ranney. Presented by the Shaw Festival at the Festival Theatre. Runs in rep to October 29. $42-$77. 1-800-511-7429. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
The Shaw Festival has a way of conjuring up the dramatic spirit of a bygone America, albeit a fantasy America where comic problems have a happy resolution and final-curtain goodwill for all. The festival continues its success with Three Men On A Horse , a rarely produced 30s comedy by John Cecil Holm and legendary Broadway director George Abbott .
At its centre is nebbishy poet Erwin Trowbridge, whose output is limited to scribbling greeting-card texts, writing that makes Hallmark verses look like the best of the Bard. But he does have one instinctive skill, which is picking winners at the race track. It's just a pastime, for Erwin doesn't bet. When he drunkenly falls into the hands of a trio of gamblers, though, the three fast operators try to parlay his talent into a big bundle.
In director Jim Mezon 's ensemble production, Kevin Bundy 's Erwin has all the physical comedy down pat and plays the ingenuous gull to sympathetic perfection. Simon Bradbury captures the 30s gangster style beautifully as ringleader Patsy. Able to switch from sympathetic friend to dangerous mobster in a second, Bradbury adds a nice touch of the sinister to a play that's pretty much devoted to warm-hearted silliness.
The other standout performer is Glynis Ranney as Mabel, Patsy's moll. Mabel starts out as a dumb blond and former Follies dancer without a thought in her head, but over the course of the show Ranney invests her with a sensitivity that turns her into the show's richest character. Think of Judy Holliday in Born Yesterday, on a lesser scale.
The production has its problems, with a set-up that's very long - not uncommon in plays of the period - and an unnecessary postmodern frame that tells us we're watching a theatrical production. But with its good share of laughs and some sharp performances, you can bet on Three Men On A Horse.