Leon Worden

You'll die laughing at CTG's 'Drop Dead'

Leon Worden Stage Review by LEON WORDEN
Special Sections Editor
Friday, August 7, 1998

Brad Rennels is at it again. If you enjoyed Rennels as the flaming homosexual interior designer in last summer's "Run For Your Wife," you'll want to hire a babysitter for the kids and trek up Sierra Highway again this month for the Canyon Theatre Guild's presentation of "Drop Dead."

Rennels reprises his role in this deliciously ribald comedy, this time as the gay stage manager, Phillip. He's joined by the versatile Jason Endicott ("Come Blow Your Horn"), who isn't quite as ridiculous as Rennels but no less funny in the role of Victor Le Pewe, a director and the object of Phillip's affection.

If it's deep meaning you're looking for, forget it. You won't want to find any. This is straight comedy, no pun intended — bawdy, silly burlesque. Just sit back and expect to be entertained for two hours. By the time it's through you'll be worn out from laughing so much.

The fun begins before you even realize it. Rennels is onstage adjusting the lights and props while you're taking your seat. At least that's what it looks like he's doing. It's actually part of the show.

"Drop Dead" is a play about a play, where a motley crew of washed-up thespians stage a murder mystery, only to become embroiled in a real-life murder mystery.

The fast-paced Act I is the dress rehearsal of the "fake" play; in Act II they're performing before a live audience. In between, during intermission, Rennels prances through the theatre — and even into the concession area and outside the building — to hand you a phony program for the phony play.

"I don't get to break character all night," Rennels said of the demanding role.

It takes talented actors to purposefully act badly enough to draw laughs, and the Canyon players make fine work of it. That's what this play is all about. Their delivery and timing is right on — or off, as the case may be.

Director Ben Boydston pulls the entire crew into the affair. The lighting (Joe Swartz) is properly messed up and the sound effects (Ingrid Boydston) appropriately off-cue at all the right moments. Even the painted-on coat rack of the "$35 stage set" (Frank Rock and company) enters into the hijinks.

You could scarcely ask for better casting. Strong actors like Rennels and Philip Schwadron (as Chaz Looney, the apprentice) make solid anchors, but they aren't allowed to carry away the show. Several company members who have played minor roles in the past (Richard Knox, Brad Peach) are given lengthier parts here and an opportunity to broaden their on-stage experience.

Each role is an exaggeration of itself, from the slick-haired producer Sol Weisenheimer (Jymn Magon, Greg Finley) to the gum-chewing ex-porn star Candy Apples (Canyon High senior Jennifer Faulkner) to the Coke-bottle-spectacled eccentric playwright Alabama Miller (Leo Willey). Barbara Huntington must have studied Gilligan's Island for her role as the has-been TV star Mona Monet, because you'll recognize the image of Mrs. Thurston Howell right down to the affected speech, upturned nose and too-long cigarette holder.

Former City Council hopeful and longtime Guild player Marsha McLean is hilarious as the decrepit old hag of a half-blind, half-deaf, half-dead (and before the play is over, fully dead) stage star Constance Crawford. McLean's ability to keep a straight face while everyone is laughing at her is a wonder.

Playwrights Billy Van Zandt and Jane Milmore give the cast a lot to work with, with plenty of one-liners (Weisenheimer on Crawford: "There's one broad who's outlived her skin") and themes repeated into absurdity ("Lord Barrington was slain in the library while eating cheese — brie cheese, sliced thin").

Even when it's over it isn't over, but I'll let you see that for yourself. To get to the Canyon Theatre, go way up Sierra Highway, about 8 miles north of city limits. If you get to Le Chene French Cuisine you've gone too far. (But if you get to Le Chene, eat dinner. Tell Juan you're on your way to the theater and he'll give you 15 percent off.)

"Drop Dead" plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. The guild is located at 13360 Sierra Highway. Call 298-0058 for reservations.

* * *

Leon Worden is The Signal's special sections editor. His regular column appears on Wednesdays.

comments powered by Disqus