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Highland Heights Native Returns to NKU as Teacher, Directs "Moon Over Buffalo"

In farceur Ken Ludwig’s Moon Over Buffalo, fading stars of the 1950s George and Charlotte Hay are touring Private Lives and Cyrano De Bergerac in rep. 

In Buffalo, things don’t look so good. George’s dalliance with a young ingénue is sparking a split, but wait -- Frank Capra is coming to town to see their matinee, and if he likes what he sees, he might cast them in his next big feature. It wouldn’t be farce if everything didn’t go wrong. 

Charlie Roetting directs Buffalo, opening Sept. 24 at Northern Kentucky University, and like the playwright (Lend Me a Tenor, Crazy for You), the Highland Heights “born and raised” NKU grad knows how to bring the funny.

If you don’t remember the Fifties, no worries. Roetting notes that Ludwig's writing “possesses a certain degree of timelessness.” Celebrity name-drops (like Mickey Rooney, Frank Capra, Ronald Colman, Greer Garson…) may not all be familiar (or familiar at all) to students, “but the tropes are there.”

Roetting lists them: “Person vs. Fate; Person vs. Self; Person vs. Person; Person vs. Society; Person vs. Technology. All are present here in different capacities. Issues of infidelity, developing technology, has-beens, also-rans, what ifs, and the list goes on.

And, of course, all played for laughs.

“Every audience member has shared a heartbeat with this play at one time or another.”

Roetting doesn’t think it’s a coincidence that the folks in the play are waiting for legendary film director Frank Capra, at a time when theater audiences started Waiting for Godot.

“While Buffalo opened on Broadway in 1995, it’s set in 1953 which is the same year that Godot opened in Paris. The similarities are uncanny; misfits whose fates they knowingly and willfully place in the hands of an unknown and otherwise unseen force that never appears within the play but is very much a major player. To me, the two plays are spiritual cousins.”

Melissa Cathcart, Nate Doninger, and Katherine Sallee in Moon Over Buffalo (photo by Mikki Schaffner)

After graduating from NKU, Roetting headed to grad school (New York Film Academy) then west to Los Angeles, where he continued his education, signing up for more classes – in improv. He studied with performers from the Upright Citizens Brigade, iO West (formerly Improv Olympic), Groundlings, and others. “I worked with several teams with such colorful names as Quark, Death Metal Sex Brigade, Grand.Parents. and Los Animales. But my baby was thrashtown! There are literally hundreds of improv teams in L.A., but thrashtown! was mine, along with some of my best friends in the world. We formed in early 2012 and were quickly offered a monthly spot at the Neon Venus Art Theatre. Some of the names have changed, but the team still exists and plays today.”

Roetting has kept his improv chops sharp since moving back to Campbell County at the end of 2012. He’s been teaching part-time at NKU since early 2013 and counts its This Side Up comedy improvisation tour troupe among his responsibilities.

Roetting and NKU’s Ain’t No Mango were front and center at Locals Night of the recent Improv Festival of Cincinnati and you can spot him onstage with OTRImprov at Know Theatre and an increasing number of gigs: he hosts the weekly Bye Bye Liver: The Cincinnati Drinking Play at The Public House and  makes “the occasional commercial.”

‘Thrilled’ is not too strong a word for how Roetting feels about being back at NKU as an adjunct. 

“Teaching was always a part of the plan for me. It wasn't initially supposed to happen as quickly as it has. I always figured I'd start teaching when I was in my 40's or so.”

His quick move to NKU’s instructor roster “was all pretty unexpected, but very happily so. My goal was and in many ways still is to join the faculty at NKU. I have high hopes of going full time.”

Moon Over Buffalo, Sept. 24-Oct. 4. Northern Kentucky University, Corbett Theatre. 8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday. Tickets $14, senior citizens $11, students $8. 859-572-5464 and [email protected].

Written by Jackie Demaline, RCN Arts

Photo: Charlie Roetting (provided)