Among the first things you learn as this play within a play begins is that the cast is isolated on a strange island and the power supply is unpredictable. Thus the stage is set for a lampoon of 1950s sci-fi B movies a la screwball comedies. It’s a mélange of Roger Corman and Agatha Christie, written and directed by Wayne Rawley and inaugurating Theater Schmeater’s new space.
As the action begins, things are not going well. Guns don’t shoot, the monster falls down, and the female star is past her prime. The script needs changing, but the leading man will find it impossible to remember any rewritten dialogue. And as if that’s not problematic enough, the woman who is financing this potential disaster storms in with ultimatums.
Of course, it only gets worse. Convoluted family relationships, an FBI connection, a Russian spy and bumbling sleuths, as well as McCarthy-hearing references, are all woven together to create a bizarre but funny plot.
Rawley has directed this piece in sprightly fashion. His actors are encouraged to ham it up, and they do. Lisa Branham, as Desdemona Sunset, plays the aging star both dead and alive, with a potent mix of hauteur and neediness. With her caked-on makeup and carefully concealing garments, she’s a has-been with chutzpah.
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And if a prominent chin is an absolute requirement for leading men, Tim Moore, as Martin Van Handsome, has it — and brandishes it at every opportunity. He too seems unable to distinguish between an award-winning movie and a hapless bit of schlock, but as long as his handsome face is on display, he seems not to care.
As Rawley throws in every plot twist he can conjure up, the third act drags on a bit too long. Yet this clever take on an ever-popular movie genre has much to recommend it.
When the company recently lost its space on Capitol Hill, it was lucky enough to find this tidy theater in an apartment complex on Third Avenue in the middle of Belltown. With approximately 50 seats, it’s a good size for the group, and, if Michael Mowery’s adroit Gothic staging for this production is predictive, it’s going to work out very well.