Before The 39 Steps and various comic version of The Hound of the Baskervilles, parodies depended less on physical shtick and sight gags and more on verbal wit and keen ribbing of a genre or character. In 1974, H.C. McNeile’s British pulp hero, Bulldog Drummond, featured in several movies, caught the lampooning eye of San Francisco improv performers Diz White, Ron House, John Neville-Andrews, Alan Shearman, and Derek Cunningham who split a variety of role to make fun of Drummond’s blindly daring style of adventure.
Hedgerow Theatre, in a production directed by Mark Tallman, did not miss a moment for comedy in its brisk, amiable production of BULLSHOT CRUMMOND. Tallman’s staging benefits from having Brock D. Vickers as his lead. In addition to being brave and romantic, Vickers knows how to be self-effacing with keeping his character’s dignity intact. His graceful, congenial bumbling combined with a sure talent for showing Crummond’s abundant deductive skills give Hedgerow’s CRUMMOND a strong central core and a character for whom you can root.
With Vickers as the lead, Tallman can move easily between farcical comedy and sequences in which Crummond chooses to be suave or has to use his noodle and be intuitive and intelligent. The actor can handle both while leaning decidedly towards the funny.
Vickers’s co-star Mary Beth Shrader shows a lot of range, from seriously worried to seriously intelligent and on to downright ditzy. Shrader really gets the audience’s attention when he lets out one of her character’s blood curdling screams.
Josh Portera and Allison Bloechl are right out of cartoon in their routine but hilarious parodies of Nazi spies trying to get the formula for a synthetic diamond that has the strength and industrial importance of a real stone. Portera is all Sergeant Schultz as the German villain. His accent is the classic harsh exaggeration of the German tongue, and he revels in his character’s nastiness, especially when his Otto von Brunno thinks he has Crummond cornered. Bloechl is a portrait of a the femme fatale, who blends cool sophistication with total lack of conscience.
Although language and humorously missed opportunities drive most of the comedy, Tallman includes his share of sight gags, Crashing airplanes, and dolls parachuting out of them make for a funny and suspenseful opening scene. Lights and supple movement allow passengers in two cars to do a fast-cutting scene that involves both vehicles alternating on center stage seconds apart in a simultaneous scene. There’s a snazzy stunt involving dynamite. The sudden appearance of carrier pigeons also get laughs. On opening night, when one the pigeons missed its flight path and ended in a no man’s land offstage, an improvising Vickers, using great presence of mind and prodigious gymnastic skill, told Shrader’s character to hold his ankles, as with only his shoe tips supported by the stage, he stretched his body precariously into the void between the stage and the audience and, in an of genuine cunning and spontaneous daring, plucked the errant pigeon from the offstage floor. It was a thrilling addition to the excellent work Vickers was doing in the rehearsed parts of the play.
Bryan Black has the lucky and unenviable task of playing an army of characters and is deft and distinct in each, often to hilarious effect. Read the full review >>> [Hedgerow Theatre, 64 Rose Valley Road] September 3-October 11, 2015; hedgerowtheatre.org.