Written by Patrick Chavis
I’ve said it before, and I’ll repeat it- it’s hard to do comedy, especially when they’re straight comedies. It’s also a type lacking in Orange County Theater, 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 that does the genre justice will come around. 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 called Manley (Man–Lee), which is about as on the nose as it gets. William has become quite famous for 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 focusing 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, 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 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 direction it’s reminiscent of something I would see on SNL. In contrast, the two lead players, Heather (Gabby Heckler) and William (Bill Paxson), adequately play the straight characters. The apparent age difference between the two main leads adds an exciting layer to the comedy in this show. Do we know what we want? William might think and fantasize about having a younger woman, but it might not be all it’s cracked up to be. Regarding quality, the production suffers 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 consistent and undeniably funny.
March 18th – April 3, 2016
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