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nytheatre.com review by Jo Ann Rosen
|September 10, 2007
|The Medicine Show Theatre and Cressid Theater Company present The Sheik, a new play by Deloss Brown inspired by Irish playwright Richard Steele's 1703 comedy The Tender Husband. The following description is from the show's press release: "At the beginning of The Sheik, a wicked advertising executive has fallen in love with his innocent young secretary and gotten her pregnant. The problem: he's already married. The solution: he hires a gay employee to have a documented affair with his wife in anticipation of a quickie divorce. But when the gay employee decides to accomplish his task by impersonating an oil-rich sheik, will the wife see through the charade?"
The Sheik, a three-act play by Deloss Brown, delivers farce with plenty of tongue-in-cheek. Making its way through Medicine Show's play-development series, this work-in-progress shows both strengths and weaknesses. There are many funny lines, a strong cast, and a clear plot with enough turns to capture and hold an audience.
The story centers around a thoroughly despicable ad executive named Jack whose sexual appetite devours his ditzy secretary, Patsy. Patsy announces she wants to marry him--she is pregnant--but Jack demurs, he is married. Not wanting to take responsibility for a divorce, he devises a plan to catch his wife in bed with another man. The plan involves Frank, a gay graphic artist who is counting on a promotion; Joanne, a lesbian who owns a Holiday Inn, and, of course, Frank's wife, Marty, who doesn't mind a little romancing from a Sheik.
Act I sets the scene nicely. It is in Act II, where door slamming and split-second timing of entrances and exits usually bring on the laughs, that this farce shows some creaky hinges. The doors are there, but essentially there is very little use of them. The remaining antics weigh the characters down with static buffoonery. Better to reach for the crisp polish and fast pace of, say, Noises Off, and miss slightly, than take the easy road to nowhere. For example, Frank enters the hotel room, giving Joanne an order for champagne-how many times? We got it. It is clear she will get the order wrong. Patsy enters another room. She meanders around a bit with little happening. Then, she makes a few frantic phone calls. Problem is: the play loses momentum.
Part is due to pace. That responsibility falls squarely on the director's shoulders--in this case Brown, who occasionally removes the fourth wall, allowing Jack to expound to the audience that we ought to nuke Iran and then Cuba. He delivers remarks on our current administration that would have more effect in an improvisational setting than they do in this play. Here again, they break the momentum.
Photo by John Quilty
There are a number of other gratuitous moments that hint at plot developments, but go nowhere: breaking a window so Frank can throw Jack through it; Frank's repeated threats to kill himself; and the appearance of a gun, but to no end. To my mind, these distract the audience from the fun at hand. Brown knows how to entertain and ties up the loose ends nicely in Act III.
Marc Palmieri does a marvelous job spewing Jack's misogynist and anti-gay proclivities as if he were offering up Wonder Bread to a child. Slouching and pacing, he is a man with a plan, ready to manipulate anyone who crosses his path. Thick-skinned and politically odious, Palmieri gives us a man we love to hate. Lisa Peart plays his love interest, Patsy, with clueless accuracy. Some direction from Brown in Act III might help explain the character's decisive turn on her otherwise aimless path. There is little hint as to what causes her to develop spine. Jack Perry delivers a large presence as Frank, a man manipulated so egregiously that once he assumes the costume of a Sheik he is once again manipulated into the position of a womanizer despite the fact that he is gay--or was he manipulated into that role because he wanted to be an artist? Amber Voiles is the put-upon wife, Marty, who effectively and convincingly functions as a straight man (woman) and then, to her husband's surprise, surrenders everything he has asked for because it suits her. Jacqueline Herbach nicely rounds out the cast as Joanne. Simple sets and lighting for an office and motel were designed by Geoffrey Sherman. He also designed the costumes.