Sunday, December 17, 2017
Stage

Review: Richey Suncoast's rapid-fire farce 'Hotbed Hotel' a rollicking romp

Hotbed Hotel, playing at Richey Suncoast Theatre weekends through Jan. 27, may or may not prove the old adage that love is better the second time around. Or at least as good.

That's not the plot of the zany comedy/sex farce; it's the fact that Hotbed is the second show by playwright Michael Parker in Richey's 2012-13 season. The first was the comedy/sex farce The Sensuous Senator, which the audiences did indeed seem to love.

The two plays have the same themes — marital deception, close calls, out-of-control libidos — but the characters and situations are as new and fresh as any two Shakespeare plays, only on the other end of the "get serious" scale.

The key in both plays is in the casting, and Richey directing newcomer, appropriately named Robin New, scored a home run in that department, snaring theater favorites Bill Schommer to play the double role of permanent hotel guest Major Ponsenby and Abdul Alhaj, a man who may or may not be his twin brother; and Mark Lewis as the jittery Brian Cody, the co-owner of the Turtle Beach Hotel, the one-star, seldom-occupied, 12-room Key West establishment for sale to the highest bidder.

Their dependably fine work is complemented by warmly sweet Heather Clark as Brian's clever, supportive, calm-inducing wife, Terri, who comes up with a scheme to impress a potential buyer that the Turtle Beach is a thriving establishment by disguising the hired help as paying guests and/or a huge hotel staff.

That lets Richey Suncoast newcomers Christine Stoll and Steve Rice shine in the show's primo comedy spots as Maureen the dim-bulb maid and Hopkins the handyman.

Ms. Stoll's Maureen is all wide-eyed confusion as she switches from maid to receptionist, room service waiter, or hostess, setting up most of the misunderstandings and providing many of the big laughs. Rice is a scene-stealer as the dipsomaniac Hopkins, who drops a string malapropisms as readily as he swigs from his hidden stashes of booze. Hopkins knows how to deliver a line or pull off a sight gag to full effect — without overdoing it.

Providing the Parker-required over-sexed, bed-hopping babe is a voluptuous Samantha Parisi as Hayley Harrington, the Turtle Beach's annual bombshell of a visitor. The Major is supposed to keep her occupied and away from the uptight, highly moral prospective buyer, New Yorker Sam Lewis (a charming Dominic Belluccio), but he can't seem to keep up with Hayley's escapades.

Playwright Parker puts a new spin on the farce-required bedroom mixups when not one, but two Mrs. Lewises — a delightful Alicia Peterson as young, beautiful, blond Ashley and an imperious Ingrid Steele as the much older, clinch-jawed Dorothy Lewis — show up to give prospective buyer Sam fits trying to keep them both happy and apart.

This is a play that requires split-second timing and a cohesive cast that can pull it off, and director New's bunch does a great job of this, nailing the sight gags (love the lightbulb, but it does seem to go on for a bit) and making the most of her costumes, though a couple of them come perilously close to revealing a tad too much.

The script is filled with clever one-liners and word plays, so many, in fact, that some don't get their due in the rapid-fire exchanges. Parker bills himself as a Brit who writes English farce in American style, so there are few British-isms to figure out, though the Major does toss in one here and there. Lights, sound and sound effects are spot-on, thanks to Ren Relli, Zoe Brown and Bruce Van Dusen, and stage manager Jim Laird keeps the blackouts so short you hardly know they've happened.

The show comes in at a little more than two hours, including intermission, or, as Winston Churchill once said of women's skirts, "long enough to cover the subject, but short enough to create interest."

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