Anyone who loves British sitcoms will enjoy seeing Randall T. Anderson play the role of Basil Fawlty in Waukesha Civic Theatre's 'Fawlty Towers,' based on the British TV show of the same name, which ran in the mid-1970s.
British comedian John Cleese, who co-wrote the series, played the role of Basil, but I don't think any better than Anderson's portrayal of the caustic owner of a 22-room hotel in Torquay, England.
As Basil, Anderson mutters and sputters at his guests, who he finds mostly low class. At the end of the first act he tells a lobby full of them, 'You people come in expecting to be waited on hand and foot, while I'm trying to run a hotel here.'
Basil is a gem of a comic role, and I couldn't imagine anyone doing it better than Anderson.
Starting with Anderson, Director David Scott has assembled a good cast to carry out all that can go wrong when a hotel owner is indifferent and condescending.
Unaffected by Basil's frequent outbursts and gloomy disposition is his always level-headed wife, Sybil, played marvelously by Beth Perry. The two make an absolutely charming and hilarious couple, with impeccable comic timing.
Sybil seems to always be about the hotel, but prefers to give orders to Basil rather than carry them out herself. At one point Basil sarcastically calls her 'my little workhorse.' Perry's Sybil strides purposefully about the hotel, her monstrosity of perfectly groomed gray hair looking like it should be fed as it rides high atop her proud head.
Four episodes of hilarity
This stage version of 'Fawlty Towers' is literally four episodes (each act is a new episode) of the 12-episode BBC Television series.
Essentially, it's a series of scenes at the hotel with guests coming and going to provide opportunities for Basil and his staff to find one way or another to make his guests unhappy. In today's world, TripAdvisor would have taken care of this establishment in short order. As one guest says to Basil, the owner, 'You are the rudest man I ever met.'
Little plots within the scenes include a man posing as a dignitary, scamming Basil. Another features an American who gets angry over a multitude of inefficiencies, including the hotel's unwillingness to make him a Waldorf salad. 'We're all out of Waldorfs,' Basil explains
In the second act, a very funny Ann Morrow plays Mrs. Richards, an older woman with hearing problems and a foul disposition to rival Basil's. The two square off, as do other staff, with hilarious results. In the final act, Basil is told that three inspectors are in town. Basil must determine which guest might be one of the inspectors so as to be nice to him.
Basil and beyond
Anderson's Basil is the center of this play's universe, with some superb supporting roles to compliment his. A few of the smaller roles, however, were a bit uneven and tended to bog down the timing.
As Manuel, the waiter who is still learning English, Jim Donaldson gives another memorable performance, handling the fast and funny repartee with Basil with considerable flair. Manuel's misunderstandings of English create lots of opportunities for humor.
Jacqueline Gosz as a waitress and hotel assistant, Polly, also handles the comedy well as she interacts with a variety of guests and staff.
I also liked the big, broad performance of Jeff Gepfert as Major Gowen, the permanent resident of the hotel who is getting a bit on the dotty side.
Playing the American, Mr. Hamilton, John Jones also is most effective as Basil's, and the staff's mishaps finally push him over the edge. Tom Van Gilder as Lord Melbury and Noah Maguire as Danny Brown also provide distinctive characterizations.
Evan Crain, scenic designer and master carpenter, created a handsome set that features the hotel lobby, dining area and a partial back room behind the lobby desk.
With its episodic stories, rather than the story arc of most plays, 'Fawlty Towers' has the feeling of binge watching a British sitcom. A very funny British sitcom at that.
If you go
Who: Waukesha Civic Theatre
What: 'Fawlty Towers'
When: Through June 19 (7:30 p.m. Friday, June 10; 3:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, June 11; 2 p.m. Sunday, June 12; 7:30 p.m. Friday, June 17; 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, June 18; 2 p.m. Sunday, June 19)
Where: 264 W. Main St., Waukesha
Tickets/Information: (262) 547-0708, www.waukeshacivictheatre.org