Review - Drop Dead!

Jules Becker
The Patriot Ledger
March 20, 2007
‘Drop Dead’ from Laughter

Imagine a poor man’s ‘‘Noises Off’’ set in an area called ‘‘Not Even Off-Broadway.’’ Now imagine that the almost totally unprofessional cast in the play-with-in-the play of the same name are soon dying off one by one not only in the company’s Agatha Christie-like play but also offstage. If the resulting farce called ‘‘Drop Dead’’ does not prove as inspired as its Michael Frayn predecessor, the Curtain Call Theatre’s lively staging does make the Billy Van Zandt-Jane Millmore play good lethal fun.

‘‘Drop Dead’’ opens with a rag-tag dress rehearsal that does not bode well for opening night. Actors arrive very late. A show-off actress named Mona Monet looks for applause from her cheering squad. Hard of hearing old timer Constance Crawford often seems to dwell in a dream world. Dick Shalit, supposed television critic Gene Shalit’s brother, does not come remotely close to real acting. Even professional Brent Reynolds has a problem - namely, pronouncing the name of his character’s young lover Penelope as Nipples or Pineapple.

Most seriously of all, producer Sol Weisenheimer has creative differences with the playwright, Alabama Miller. Where Miller wants to spell out metaphors, especially snow, with overly long discourses, Weisenheimer wants to make the play shorter and more risque to showcase his girlfriend Candy Apples (who is playing Penelope). Slick, vulgar and judgmental, he refers to set designer Phillip Fey as a ‘‘faigele’’ (Yiddish for ‘‘fairy’’), as he clearly loves the play’s flamboyant director, Victor Le Pewe.

But soon Weisenheimer turns up stabbed. Did Miller take care of him to stage his play to his own liking? Did either Fey or Le Pewe remove the bigoted producer in exasperation and rage? Could one of the cast members be concealing a psychotic condition? Did the butler, Drools, actually do it? Eventually the murderer is revealed, in a scene that is wonderfully wacky.

Along the way, Van Zandt and Millmore poke good-natured fun at sacred cows and theater foibles. In his own way, Weisenheimer stands for all that is commercial and crass in many modern producers. The more Alabama Miller pontificates about high-minded theater and heavy-handed symbolism, the more he becomes his own worst enemy. There is even a Pirandellian touch that also calls to mind the musicals ‘‘Crazy for You’’ and ‘‘Lend Me a Tenor’’ during which Le Pewe finds it necessary to dress up as Constance Crawford’s character Lady Barrington - though Le Pewe is humorously much taller than she.

Under Richard White’s sharp direction, most of the characters make the most of their parts. Jason Poisson catches all of designer Fey’s frustration trying to do justice by all of the design demands of the rehearsed play. Cathy Larson is properly vain as Monet, while K. Lance Wesley captures Reynolds’ relative restraint dealing with the incompetence around him. Mike Pevzner has the right sleaziness as Weisenheimer. Woody Farrick as Le Pewe fairly eats up Fey’s adoration. Bill Houldcroft Jr. has Drools’ officiousness, while Sharon Evans makes good fun of Crawford.

During intermission, theatergoers should give some time to the playbill for the play-within-the-play. Look for a reference to the presenter as ‘‘The Late Sol Weisenheimer.’’ Also notice that Fey is the only name credited for stage management, lighting, sound engineering and fire marshalling, among other responsibilities. The actors’ biographies are a hoot as well.

As the expression goes, you could die laughing at Curtain Call’s hilarious ‘‘Drop Dead.’’

Last weekend at Curtain Call Theatre, Braintree. Contact them at 781-356-5113.