Perhaps I was simply in the mood for some good smiles and laughs, or maybe it was the timeliness of the subject matter (double-talking politicians), and surely it was the excellent cast and crew involved, but, whatever it was, I enjoyed the heck out of Thursday's opening night of The Sensuous Senator, playing weekends through Nov. 4 at Richey Suncoast Theatre.
It's a grown-up sex farce in the style of England's Ray Cooney (Run for Your Wife, Caught in the Net, Wife Begins at Forty, etc.), but it's by Brit-turned-American Michael Parker, who says he enjoys a good farce from his homeland, but feels Americans deserve their own unique settings and situations in order to get the full impact.
The result is that Parker has written at least nine farces especially for Americans — and the Americans (and others) at Richey Suncoast showed their appreciation for one of Parker's most popular with easy laughter and abundant applause for the fast-paced, cleverly written show.
Because this kind of show depends so much on surprise, I won't give away too many details. Suffice to say that the setup is witty and gets the audience into the show immediately, so that there's no need for a lot of exposition during the following events.
This means that the rest of the two hours can be spent simply enjoying the zany goings-on in the apartment of "family values" Sen. Harry Douglas (the gifted comedy actor, Bob Marcela), where the senator is supposedly spending a weekend pining for his loving wife, Lois, (a warmly genuine Heather Clark), who is out on the campaign trail for hubby, who wants to be president.
By now, most Americans know that when a politician bases his whole career on "family values," it's just a matter of time before he's caught in some compromising situation. How it happens and what happens then is where the audience gets in on the fun. The show was written in the mid 1990s, but director Kathryn Tilley smoothly updates some of the current events references to make it timely.
The director also has her cast heed the playwright's dictum that "less is more," specifically that even though the situation is totally outrageous, the players must play it straight, with no over-the-top mugging for cheap laughs.
Of course, there is a lot of physical comedy, but it's done in the style of, say, the late Jack Lemmon, rather than the Three Stooges. The small, cozy Richey Suncoast auditorium is perfect for such a technique, as the audience is close enough to the stage to catch and appreciate subtleties and facial expressions.
Nathan Sakovich, as Harry's naive nephew Congressman Jack Maguire, skirts close to the edge of "more is less," but deftly stays in line, letting his terrific voice and expressive face and physical presence do the comedy for him. Sakovich's scenes with the beautiful Allison Iskowitz, playing call girl Fiona (he thinks her "agency" is the CIA) are priceless. Talk about chemistry — these two have it.
Rich Aront, as elderly, straight-arrow Congressman Clyde Salt, is a marvel, looking and behaving exactly as you would want your elder statesman to. JoAnn Larson, as Harry's sexy secretary, Veronica, is pure, lovely joy to watch. Notice and relish especially her bit with Aront's Congressman Salt in Act 2, when split-second timing makes all the difference, and they do it to perfection.
In fact, the entire cast — including the animated CJ Fowler as the watchful policeman; Shelly Wirgau as insistent National Intruder reporter Betty Morrison; and Taylor Elliott as assertive reporter Mary Richmond — is confident and sure of what comes next and who does it in this madcap show. That really does let the audience sit back, relax, and — well, you know.
Kudos to director Tilley, light and set designer Marie Skelton and the construction crew, as well as sound board operator Garrett Case, sound effects operator Bruce Van Dusen and light board operator Jane Case for a smooth, well-timed show. This is one for anybody who enjoys a good, easy laugh and savors fine performances by cast members who are obviously having as much fun on stage as those people out in the audience.