All smiles: The cast members in Key West appear to be having the time of their lives.
All smiles: The cast members in Key West appear to be having the time of their lives.
Theatre New West

Full-Monty Fun

Escape can be a good thing -- especially now, during these swampy, mosquito-filled summer months. Theatre New West has just the relief: a sexy, silly, romping production of Jack Heifner's Key West. Filled with naked men and frothy romance, the pretty, featherweight show makes a fine two-hour getaway.

When the stage lights first come up, we encounter the young and beautiful, blond and Swedish, and -- best of all -- 100 percent naked Per (Jack George), who's sleeping on a deck at the Déjà Vu hotel where clothing is strictly optional. He snoozes away in the midday sun as middle-aged Tracy (David Haynes) putters around him with a tray full of muffins. Turns out the two met the previous night when Tracy stuffed a $50 bill in Per's go-go dancer G-string.

Tracy's best friend and vacation roommate, Mel (Taavi Mark), encounters the two men on the deck. Mel has just returned from Eckerd, where he purchased a brown paper bag full of middle-age accoutrements, including Metamucil, Mylanta and Tums. Mel collapses into a nearby chair and promptly chastises the randy Tracy for his bad behavior, reminding him that he's too old for gorgeous dancers. Per is still sleeping away when Tracy pooh-poohs the priggish Mel, saying that he's got a "severe case of retinanus," in which the nerves of your eyes get twisted up with the nerves of your ass and "give you a shitty outlook on life."


Key West

Theatre New West, 1415 California

Through Saturday, August 18. 713-394-0464. $20.

These odd-couple friends are clearly in the throes of midlife, each handling his crisis in his own unique way. Tracy, the happy extrovert who "put together a drag act in the third grade," wants to party all night. Sour Mel, the quiet writer, just wants to meet a nice man and settle down.

There's nothing new in this sitcom-sized problem. But Heifner's script moves quickly and easily over the familiar terrain. The playwright can also tell a pretty good joke. Barbara Walters's plastic surgery makes her "look like someone who's yelled, 'Boo!'" Horny Tracy argues that he just wants to do all the "vile and divine things that you only hear about in the Bible." And when he looks at young Per, sleeping so gorgeously on the deck, he sighs and says bitterly, "Generation excrement." There's even a roller-skating, half-naked maid named Pinky (played as a gloriously campy ditz by Erik Soliz) who glides hilariously through the show at the most inopportune moments.

Naturally, both Mel and Tracy conjure up all sorts of trouble. When an Omaha college boy named Jeff (Jason Barker) shows up looking for a fellow he's met on-line, Mel's life turns upside down. Turns out nervous Jeff is an utter novice to gay life. Even worse, he lied during his cyberchats. Calling himself "Hot for Cock," Jeff told his chat-room lover that he's in his early forties and an experienced "bottom." Mel becomes alarmed when the boy confesses that he's actually a virgin. Taavi Mark as Mel makes the most of the introverted writer's confusion when Jeff begs Mel for lovemaking lessons. Turning visibly red, Mark's Mel fumbles and stutters and sweats as he tries to turn down the lovely young man, before eventually yielding to such unexpected good fortune.

Things get even sillier when "Big Top," Jeff's on-line paramour, finally makes his entrance. Tall and swarthy, Big Top is actually a handsome Episcopal priest whose real name is Don (Tracy Barcelona). Roommate Tracy, who has lost his sexy Swede, takes care of Big Top, while Jeff and Mel run around with various household items covering their privates as they worry over what to do about the situation.

The end is utterly predictable, of course, but that hardly matters with this charming show, which bubbles along with the joyful comfort of a cool mimosa on warm summer night. The actors seem to be having the time of their lives. And for some reason, it hardly matters that on the whole they come off as a bit inexperienced. Under Joe Watts's direction they manage to make Key West so real that the whole experience feels like a mini-vacation full of carefree and perfectly naughty good fun.


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