It's a beautiful drive down to Bristol Valley Theatre, where the light summer fare seems a throwback to earlier theatrical values. In the middle of its 10th anniversary season, BVT is performing one of those silly pieces of claptrap that used to be called "straw hat theater" entertainment. Gerald Moon's Corpse! is listed as a "comic thriller," but "camp" would be a more accurate description. You're unlikely to be thrilled or gripped by excitement or anxiety, but if you check your brains at the door, you might have a good time laughing at all the nonsense.
I guess that's the thinking behind Michael Perreca's production: the badly painted set, unpersuasive theatrical effects, and mostly embarrassing acting all seem to work deliberately against our taking any of the show seriously.
I've seen good work, well-cast, under Perreca's artistic direction at Bristol Valley Theatre before, so I guess this mishmash is intended to match the script in laughable excess. Perreca does have some funny physical schtick going, especially in the second act; and it's blocked, emphasized, and timed to get maximum laughter.
The play begins with Evelyn Farrant, an understandably unemployed actor, flouncing about in his shabby London flat. For some reason he is wearing really bad drag and talking about it with his landlady. Actually, they scream at each other in a parody of awful English accents: "And what, pry, was on the menu todye?" Gretchen Reinhagen has to play the landlady as a comic grotesque, taking stances as far downstage as she can, mugging and exaggerating every posture, grimace, and gesture in clear anticipation of getting a laugh. And she waits for laughs until she gets them.
Eventually, Evelyn gets rid of her and welcomes a visitor, Major Ambrose Powell, whom he talks into killing Rupert Farrant, Evelyn's twin brother. Jim Ditmars is genuinely funny as Major Powell, underplaying that character's Irish accent, and seeming to be honestly bewildered by all the unlikely plot twists. They include revelations about hidden identities, corpses that are still living, weapons that aren't what they seem, and confusion about which twin brother we are watching. Actor John Heinis plays Rupert, the rich brother, with a deeper voice, but has him prance around in the same hammy, effeminate manner that Evelyn affects. And the less said about Rupert's supposedly elegant digs, the better.
The only other character is a policeman, clearly a walking plot device. Michael A. Bellotti plays him with a fixed manic grin and the same kind of accent and staging formula as Reinhagen's: plant yourself facing the audience, stare just over their heads, and mug like crazy.
I am in no way being sarcastic when I report that a good time was had by all. It seemed that the actors had the best time, but the audience clearly liked them and responded with generous laughter and applause. Evidently, the Bristol Valley players know what they're doing.
Corpse! by Gerald Moon,directed by Michael Perreca, plays Thursdays to Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m. to July 28 at Bristol Valley Theater, 151 South Main Street, Naples. Tickets are $11 to $21. (585) 374-6318.
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