Juliana Zinkel, Don Burroughs, Gregory Salata,
Geoffrey Molloy and Jeffrey C. Hawkins
in Three Men on a Horse
(© Stephen Kunken)
Juliana Zinkel, Don Burroughs, Gregory Salata,
Geoffrey Molloy and Jeffrey C. Hawkins
in Three Men on a Horse
(© Stephen Kunken)
John Cecil Holm and George Abbott's Depression-era comedy, Three Men on a Horse, is now being presented by TACT at Theatre Row. Under the deft direction of Scott Allan Evans, this charming play about the world of horse racing moves at a brisk pace, even through three acts and two intermissions. Indeed, there's something to be said about the way the company embraces the play's datedness, even if their earnestness is often over-the-top.

The show actually begins before the first act, when actors come into the audience to take our bets on horses. A ticket is placed in each program with descriptions of five horses with names like "Hoof Hearted" and "I Need Da Money," and bookies make their way through the rows, marking your choice in red. It's a savvy production choice that instantly draws us into the exhilaration of gambling. When the lights fade and the race begins, we're hooked.

As the show properly opens, greeting-card writer Erwin Trowbridge (Geoffrey Molloy) is struggling to pay his bills and support his wife, Audrey (Becky Baumwoll). When Audrey discovers a little black book she assumes to contain the names of Erwin's many mistresses, it forces him to come clean about his hobby of predicting horse races -- although he never bets himself.

Soon, a whole new world of possibilities opens up for the mild-mannered writer, when he meets Patsy (Gregory Salata) and his crew of small-time gangsters. They form an unlikely partnership where he tells them who to bet on and they cut him in on their winnings. While there's plenty of madcap humor, there's never really anything much at stake.

Still, it's fun to watch the talented cast relish the silly dialogue and comic gems such as when Patsy's girlfriend, Mabel (Julianna Zinkel), tries to do her old follies act from memory for an enamored Erwin. Indeed, she brings to mind Katie Finneran's bring-down-the-house work in the recent revival of Promises, Promises.