The Butter and Egg Man

(Artwork credit: Bob Johnson)

Dennis Wit, Andrew Kaplan, Kelly Gilmore, Beth Griffith and Elizabeth Hayden.
(Photo credit: Bob Johnson)

By: Darryl Reilly

It’s an opening!
The best opening Syracuse has ever seen!

Abie’s Irish Rose, Florenz Ziegfeld and bootleggers, are affectionately referenced by George S. Kaufman in his knowing 1925 inside Broadway theater comedy, The Butter and Egg Man. It is being given a euphoric revival by the perpetually laudable Out of the Box Theatre Company. This New York City-based troupe was founded in 2006, its mission “is to feature working professionals at their peak and in their prime: seasoned actors, directors and designers primarily past 50 years of age, and to present new interpretations of period plays and contemporary classics: works written in the last century and earlier.” That at times as many as ten actors all offering vivid performances are precisely positioned for optimum visual effect on the contained playing area, is a hallmark of artistic director David Edwards’ ingenious physical staging. A multitude of jokes land, numerous sight gags register, and the pace gallops during Mr. Edwards’ hilarious production.

Andrew Kaplan, Dan Haft and Joe Symon. (Photo credit: Bob Johnson)

With his imposing physicality, animated countenance and rumbling old-time New Yorkese vocal delivery, Joe Symon is an antic dynamo as a talent agent turned cutthroat Broadway producer. The wiry Dan Haft is gleefully in overdrive as his shady henchman. Evolving from channeling James Stewart’s naivete to Michael J. Fox’s guile as the play’s titular hero, Andrew Kaplan’s lowkey magnetism informs his sterling portrayal of a fleeced Ohioan naif who turns the tables. The radiant Elizabeth Hayden shines as the producer’s shrewd secretary while tossing off wry observations, and later as the hero’s palpable love interest.

Dan Haft,Beth Griffith and Tony Javed. (Photo credit: Bob Johnson)

Nearly stealing the show as the producer’s gutsy ex-showgirl conniving wife, is the willowy Beth Griffith who cracks wise with Joan Blondell-style gusto. Initially softspoken Kelly Gilmore’s stagetruck assistant hotel manager turned theatrical investor, becomes a marvelously madcap force. Terry Rakov is deliciously haughty as the leading lady forgetful of her lines. Rubbery Dennis Wit’s dual characterizations of an incompetent English director and a fierce legal shark are both equally comically authentic. Sunny Tony Javed’s fast-talking show fixer who is called in for out-of-town tryout advice is gloriously Roaring 20’s. Susan Case and Carrie Wilder are each wickedly imperious as society grande dames.

Susan Case and Carrie Wilder.
(Photo credit: Bob Johnson)

Utilizing a few gray wall panels and key vintage furnishings, scenic designer and technical director Harlan D. Penn cleverly depicts a Jazz Age office and hotel room with artful spaciousness. Lighting designer Steven Cornelius’ searing brightness and punchy blackouts enhance the mirthfulness on display. Lavish flapper dresses, snazzy suits and crisp formalwear are arresting elements of Katherine Roberson’s accurate period-style costume design. The hijinks are abetted by Harrison H Harper’s smooth stage management.

George S. Kaufman’s Time magazine cover; November 20, 1939. (Art credit: Ernest Hamlin Baker)

Two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and Tony Award-winning director George S. Kaufman (1889-1961), was renowned as a complete man of the theater during Broadway’s Golden Age. From 1921 to 1959, Kaufman annually either wrote or directed a play that was performed on The Great White Way. He was the New York Times’ drama editor from 1917 to 1930, owned a theater, and acted in a few of his productions. The Butter and Egg Man opened on Sep 23, 1925, and successfully ran for 243 performances, it is notable as the only play he wrote without a collaborator; it is quintessential Kaufman. The frantic plot concerns the chicanery involved in putting on a troubled show, the biting dialogue expertly imparts exposition with plentiful laugh lines, and the relatable characters are impeccably delineated. A “Butter and Egg Man” was street slang for a prosperous gullible Midwesterner in the big city who gets taken advantage of by mercenary urban predators.

This bubbly incarnation of The Butter and Egg Man is a welcome opportunity to savor its riotous nostalgia.

The Butter and Egg Man (through June 23, 2024)
Out of the Box Theatre Company
Bernie Wohl Center, 647 Columbus Avenue, in Manhattan
For tickets, visit
Running time: two hours including one intermission


1 comment

  1. The review of The Butter and Egg Man by Darryl Reilly was wonderful. He made the actors come alive.

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