Written by Patrick Chavis
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again- it’s hard to do comedy, especially when they’re straight comedies. It’s also a type that’s lacking in Orange County Theatre, which isn’t to say it isn’t attempted. There are a few successful improvisational comedy groups in the OC and every once in a while a show will come around that does the genre justice. Using what I would describe as an awkward comedic plot structure, El Camino Real’s “Bodice Ripper” takes you on a weird roller coaster ride full of cheesy nonsensical dialogue, cleverly awkward situations and yes, it even makes you think (a little).
Bodice Ripper is about a writer named William (played by Bill Paxson), who’s famous for writing very masculine James Bond type detective fiction. His writing is so male centric that the main character in his novels is actually called Manley (Man – Lee) which is about as on the nose as it gets. William has become quite famous writing these books under his pen name but wants to branch out into something new. Writing in a new genre is troubling for William, especially since he’s interested in writing something less chauvinistic and a bit more romantic and “feminine”. The perfect opportunity to write one of these books falls right into his lap when he meets two women, best described as a cougar named Julia (Kathy Fischer) and a nerdy-but-pretty woman named Heather (Gabby Heckler). It just so happens that the two of them work for a publisher who focuses specifically on trashy romance novels. William is physically attracted to Heather and attempts to woo her but soon finds out that Heather despises the writing of his alter-ego. He then spends the rest of the play in a high wire act of trying to hide this secret from her, while learning to write a story in a new genre. The other subplots consist of characters Manley and Vera (they literally come from William’s imagination) acting as the Shakespeare-esque fool characters you will often see not bound by the reality of the story and gaily influencing the actions and movements of the main storyline at will.
Erick Williams Leeming (Manley) and Vera played by Alli Maier take their characters in such a zany way, it’s reminiscent of something I would see on SNL. In contrast the two main players Heather (Gabby Heckler) and William (Bill Paxson) play the straight characters adequately. The obvious age difference between the two main leads adds an interesting layer to the comedy in this show, and seems to appear because of casting and not necessarily because of how the characters were written. I say this because she’s written in the show to appear much older, but Gabby Heckler appears to be in her early twenties (at the oldest). But it plays into one of themes that comes up in this play. Do we actually know what we want? William might think and fantasize about having a younger woman but in reality it might not be all its cracked up to be. As far as quality goes, the production does suffer from delivery issues, most notably from William, but they get better in the second act. I would sum it up to early show jitters.
The show is erratic and conveniently written but its consistent and undeniably funny throughout.
March 18th – April 3 2016
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