Some sharp and wonderful comic acting brightened up two of the three short plays that made up TOSOS II's Movie Lover, a triple feature. Even when tone falters, or if an obvious point is made a second or third time, Garet Scott and Dudley Findlay, Jr. were fresh, spirited, focused and funny. Too bad they didn't share the stage -- class, your assignment is to put these two fine actors together.
First up was Mark Finley's How Do We Get Her in the Water?, a comic examination of three writers, always at the bottom of the pecking order in Hollywood, upon whom is foisted Verouka Schmidt (Scott), a German athlete, with instructions to make her a star. Verouka is an Olympic swimmer, something of a conglomeration of Sonja Henie and Esther Williams, and Scott played her with the panache of Marlene Dietrich and the comic precision of Madeline Kahn doing Marlene Dietrich. But she's so sharp that she's funny even without knowing the references. When she delivers a monolog about her life that takes her from her first experience swimming through the Olympics, with the writers (Jamie Heinlein, Robert Locke, and Scott Sowers) acting it out comically behind her, Scott was still in complete control, and impossible not to watch. The plot gimmick has the writers continually coming back to the question of the title, but at the same time they loathe her so much they do everything they can to sabotage her. There isn't much schtick that's beneath them, and they fit into neat categories -- the bitter playwright, the fag, the pro -- but it's great to see them bested at every turn by Verouka. There's deception, blackmail, and vicious swipes at Betty Hutton (hard to argue against that one), but just when it should reach heights of bitchiness, the play compromises itself by revealing that ... well, it's an easy out, and somewhat disappointing. But director Kevin Thomsen staged it all with appropriate freneticism, and a terrific underwater effect (lighting by Aaron David Blank). Heinlein, Locke and Sowers were quite funny too, but it was Garet Scott's show all the way.
Kevin Brofsky's Dancing Straight (directed by Mark Finley) takes a more somber tone, with Arnie, a successful writer (Scott D. Phillips) and his boyfriend, Forrest, who stars in his movies (Ryan Duncan), disagreeing on how to be gay and successful in '40s Hollywood. Forrest's fellow Broadway dancer Jarvis (Michael Edwin Stuart) comes to Hollywood to do the movie version of his smash show, but he's determined to play the straight game -- to him success is more important than happiness. The plot and resolution are more wishful thinking than realistic, but it was sweetly played, with Finley's low-key direction keeping the mood. And for a short play, it was extremely well set (design by Michael Muccio) and costumed (June Gaeke and Mary Louise Mooney), even down to period underwear.
Chris Weikel's Speaking Parts (directed by Mark Finley) began after a great segue -- it's not easy to shift scenes, decades, and between plays without a loud thunk, but the furniture rearranging didn't stray far from the earlier mood even as Alex, as Tarzan (Mark Ruggiero), and Ben (Findlay), an African witch doctor, talk between filming scenes. The gimmick here isn't terribly original -- Alex is offended by the dumbing down of the character and resents being treated like meat, and the only dancing Ben can do is ballroom. In between interruptions by the bitchy/funny Joe DeFeo reminding them what they've signed up for, each teaches the other what he needs -- Tarzan teaches the black man rhythm, the witch doctor teaches Tarzan how to act for a camera. But the real selling point was Findlay, who was extraordinarily dignified and slyly funny even as he was doing Ann-Margret moves in his ridiculous costume. His educated South African accent (was it real? who knows?) added the final formal touch. It was a gem of a performance that shone even brighter for being underplayed. Director Finley hit the right tone here too. So class, have you got something for Scott and Findlay yet?
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Copyright 2004 David Mackler