Better known for “Winnie the Pooh,” A.A. Milne is responsible for a little one act called THE MAN IN THE BOWLER HAT. One wonders if playwright, iconic musician Rupert Holmes, may have discovered Milne’s play as a high school drama student and worked the issue into his charming and twisty turny two act with some extra twists and turns. Best known for “The Pina Colada Song” and scores of other tunes, Holmes is also known for the Broadway musical “Drood.”
ACCOMPLICE, will… as noted by LA Times’ critic Dan Sullivan reviewing the show at the Pasadena Playhouse in 1989, “run in the dinner theatre circuit forever.” Indeed, though Theatre Forty is not a dinner theatre, there is slight air of that feeling as we find our way to the Box Office. The well established company (celebrating fifty years of productions next year!) is located in the tiny space within the hallowed halls of Beverly Hills High School.
Jeff G. Rack’s set is exquisite and just slightly like a stage set on a decent though limited budget. In his curtain speech, producer, David Hunt Stafford, welcomes and informs the small audience that actor Michael Taylor Gray will be replaced by understudy Paul Delgado. “Odd,” I remarked to my guest who had driven all the way from the Orange County to see this show. “Opening night and this Gray fellow must have gotten a paying gig.”
(*A brief note. In the old 99 Seat Plan for Equity Actors, every small theatre company would be sure that all parts were covered so that should a feature film or a TV role be offered to any of the actors that they would be released with impunity. Professionals can handle any situation and everyone understands.)
ACT ONE.. At rise, we encounter veddy British and veddy broad Mr. Delgado trouncing in and calling to Janet (Alison Blanchard, quite quite) with trippy dialogue that all seems to be leading to a murder plot. I was impressed with Delgado’s impressive impression of his character, never missing a beat. Scene Two introduces Mr. Richard Horvitz as Derek who wrestles with his bumbershot and, at last, trounces in and calls for HIS WIFE.. Janet! Much of scene one repeats. A drop of poison in his whiskey and away we go: Off to the races! Tally Ho.. ho ho.. ho..
The beauty of this old chestnut is that even if you remember all of the plot twists and turns, enjoying the performances with the audience is literally a part of the game. The introduction of Blonde Cutie, Alice Cutler, stirs the pot at the steamy conclusion of Act One, sending the audience off to the refreshment table with odd little grins, expecting more of the same in ACT TWO. Dream on.
Long ago, while writing for Drama-Logue, I reviewed the premiere performance at The Playhouse that Dan Sullivan reviewed in 1989. Spinal Tap pals, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer did the strutting and bellowing back then to a standing O. I was nuts about Pamela Brull (their Blonde Cutie) making the show even more fun. The production at Theatre Forty has all the nuance (well, schtick) and well acted characters that the Playhouse had, only up closer and maybe a bit broader. I think that Holmes would approve of Martin Thompson’s expansive direction, aided and abetted by some groovy effects on Jeff G. Rack’s set.
At this crucial time in the business of Intimate Theatre in Los Angeles, it’s important that audiences make a special effort to buy tickets and bring friends. Free parking with lots of places to have a bite before or after the show are available in Beverly Hills! What more could you ask for? I recommend the deep dish pizza at BJ’s! Just tune up your funnybone and bring a friend to see ACCOMPLICE during the run. Hopefully, Mr. Gray will have returned to the cast, but topping Mr. Delgado’s performance will be a challenge for sure. Fun stuff. Highly recommended.