The comedy Bullshot Crummond is a departure for The Vine Theatre in ways that go far beyond the company's move from Bumby Avenue to the Orlando Repertory Theatre's digs in Loch Haven Park. For the first time, the religiously motivated Vine has mounted a show that isn't even tangentially related to spiritual concerns; in the Bullshot program and in their curtain speeches, the most that founders Stephanie Williams and Whitney Goin can do is to suggest that laughter any laughter glorifies God.
That should probably be my cue for a contrarian remark about Carrot Top, but Bullshot has enough well-turned funny business to support the Vine's current, borderline-secular modus operandi. A knowing spoof of the Bulldog Drummond series of early 20th-century mysteries, the play works mostly as a platform for matinee caricatures and shamelessly medium-tech effects cues. With a few conspicuous exceptions, the script eschews blatantly deconstructive punch lines in favor of lovingly indulged clichés. It's in the performance that the send-up lives or dies, so it's key that director Rus Blackwell has conscripted an adept creative team that makes this lunatic spy game well worth playing.
Out front is the wildly committed, frighteningly limber Tim Williams as Captain Hugh "Bullshot" Crummond, a Cambridge-educated sleuth with a knack for drawing the wrong conclusions and clinging to them with furious zeal. A confident aristocrat, proud patriot and possible acrophobic, Bullshot applies his questionable talents of deduction and disguise to the cause of protecting Britain against a menace from without. A brilliant scientist has been kidnapped, putting the country's security in the filthy hands of German mad dog Otto Von Brunno (Stephan Jones) and his partner, Lenya (Kim Stone) a buxom Hun who, as some fleetingly bawdy blocking reveals, appears to be doing her part to bring down Old Blighty by smuggling in a real pair of bombs under her shirt.
The scientist has a daughter, Rosemary (Natalie Cordone), giving Bullshot both a love interest and some semblance of a fighting chance at recovering the missing man not to mention the technological wonders coveted by his odious captors. The fumbling cat-and-mouse game that ensues is first and foremost a showcase for Williams' skills: Whether spouting upper-crust xenophobia with flawless diction or extending his trim body to form an unlikely human bridge, the actor is a walking lampoon of what the English consider capability. Jones, who didn't get nearly enough credit for his bracing scene as a class-obsessed attorney in the film Monster, leaps at the chance to portray a more cartoonish sort of evil, rolling his "r's" with a gusto that energizes his and Stone's proto-Boris-and-Natasha routine. Seasoned utility player Mark Lainer takes on a full eight roles, including Bullshot's trusted aide-de-camp and the vanished professor; the occasional and intentional overlap between such portrayals matches the show's preoccupation with racial camouflage and voice impersonation. Cordone, meanwhile, gets to toss comedic darts at her own innate poise, afflicting the outwardly dainty Rosemary with a laugh that betrays an uncanny kinship to Woody Woodpecker.
Technical director Roger Scott and his crew get a real workout from the flea-market floridity of the staging, which has cutout car grilles navigating makeshift mountain ranges and Barbie dolls parachuting to safety. A rear screen supplies environmental backgrounds and displays a flourish of show-opening "credits"; there's even a good old-fashioned cliffhanger at the close of Act One. Will Bullshot escape the clutches of the evil foreigners? Will Rosemary ever see her father alive again? Will Lenya's lethal weapons stay inside her shirt? Probably. You can only go so far with the horseplay if you want to keep God on your side.
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