Moon Over Memphis 

A.R. Gurney does A.P. Chekhov in Buffalo Gal at Theatre Memphis.

Christina Wellford Scott, Tony Isbell, Kell Christie, and Jarron Robinson in A.R. Gurney's Buffalo Gal at Theatre Memphis in the Next Stage

Christina Wellford Scott, Tony Isbell, Kell Christie, and Jarron Robinson in A.R. Gurney's Buffalo Gal at Theatre Memphis in the Next Stage

Spoiler alert: The actress with a hole in her stocking probably won't come out to dance by the light of the moon. Amanda isn't an artist — she's a star, no matter how faded. Besides, she's got a daughter with expensive problems. And a lifestyle to maintain.

She needs that dollar more than she needs artistic legitimacy, so if Hollywood calls with the right offer she'll ditch The Cherry Orchard and say yes to the juicy part of Granny Sweetpants, a zany old hag in a fright wig who makes Viagra jokes on a new TV show. For the promise of a million a year over four seasons, what crumbling beauty wouldn't sell off a little piece of her heart?

Buffalo Gal is both a sentimental essay on the long-anticipated death of live theater and a chance for audiences to experience what modern entertainment might be like if only Anton Chekhov were still alive and well and writing for cable. Or something like that.

This is playwright Albert Ramsdell Gurney Jr. at his most meta, and meta isn't what the prolific playwright and chronicler of all things WASP-ish is best at. That's not to say that Jerry Chipman's production at Theatre Memphis isn't as pleasant as it can be.

But Gurney has even written in an overly enthusiastic student to pop off lines like "This is what Aristotle would call a recognition scene" and "That's why we need more government funding for the arts." That's really about as subtle as it ever gets.

Buffalo Gal is an unapologetic sampling of Chekhov plays, particularly Uncle Vanya, The Cherry Orchard, and The Seagull. Sometimes, however — and in the best ways — the script begins to resemble some tragic interpretation of Moon Over Buffalo, Ken Ludwig's goofy backstage farce about the troubles encountered by stage actors preparing for a visit from movie director Frank Capra.

Buffalo Gal is an ensemble piece, but it revolves around its star, Amanda, an Academy Award-nominated actress who's currently appearing in reruns of CSI but otherwise out of work. She's flown home to Buffalo to reunite with old friends, confront old ghosts, and play the part of Madame Ranevskaya in The Cherry Orchard at a regional theater. Only the show's director (an aptly cast Kell Christie, Theatre Memphis' artistic director) seems to know in her bones that Amanda will never make opening night.

Unsurprisingly, Chipman has cast Christina Wellford Scott as Amanda. She's Chipman's go-to gal and has teamed with the director on numerous projects. Scott's got a big range, but she's especially comfortable in this role, though she plays the opening scenes like she might be auditioning for a Katharine Hepburn biopic. Amanda is a difficult, over-enunciating personality, and before the actor ably settles into the part, the character is often intolerable. Fortunately, Scott whittles her down to human scale before she's asked to go all Nora Desmond while posing for the cameras in front of a "For Sale" sign.

Tony Isbell stands out from the tight ensemble for his sweet, starry-eyed but also eerily obsessive turn as an aging dentist who dated Amanda in high school and is entirely prepared to abandon his practice and his family in order to be with her once again. Isbell — like some unfinished character who stumbled in from the set of a musical — is asked to sell the show's most awkward, unrealistic moments, and he makes them work, even when they shouldn't.

It's not likely that Buffalo Gal is ever going to appear beside The Three Sisters in an anthology of great world literature. But the 90-minute one-act makes for a pleasant enough diversion that, like last season's Moonlight & Magnolias, will be especially appealing to fans of the play's source material.

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