Sitcom classic Gilligan's Island has been in syndication for so long, it's a shock to realize that it ran on CBS for only three seasons, 1964 through 1966. Savaged by the critics, the 100-plus episodes hit some kind of cosmic nerve in the American psyche — who, of a certain age, doesn't know the show? Bumbling Gilligan is shipwrecked on a south Pacific island with his exasperated Skipper and their five passengers: the millionaire Thurston Howell and his wife Lovey; Ginger, the movie star; the Professor; and small-town girl Mary Ann. The dumb TV show has been adapted by original creator Sherwood Schwartz (an Emmy winner from TV's golden age), along with his son, his daughter and son-in-law (the noted rock guitarist Laurence Juber), into an equally mindless but highly adorable Gilligan's Island musical. It's so silly and appealing, all you can do is enjoy it.
Whether it was intentional or not, UpStage Theatre has supplied plenty of cheesy production values that conjure the classic sitcom. The flimsy bamboo screens that flank the stage threaten to collapse at the slightest whisper, but they look so perfect painted in jungle camouflage and topped with dried-out palmetto fans. How can you dislike a show in which, out of the blue, the cast sings a lilting hula, gyrating in grass skirts (and that includes Thurston's teddy bear)?
In his iconic red shirt and battered sailor hat, Louis A. Crespo, Jr. adds an agile goofiness to bighearted Gilligan. Sam Sigman surprises with a melodic baritone in the role of harried Skipper, who's forever berating his "little buddy." Amber Ambrose has each of Ginger's curves in the right places. Chuck Houston, as the Professor, is the calm center around which the crazies rotate. Monica Passley is fresh as a Kansas sunflower, with voice to match, as optimistic Mary Ann. Crys Hymel and Mack Hays apply plenty of comic crust to the upper-crust capitalists. Then there's Patrick Graham as the Alien, but we'll leave that extraneous subplot for another episode. The whole enterprise has the sweet charm of Little Shop of Horrors. For a show without a single thought in its head, that's high praise indeed.
It's a desperate playwright who needs a closet with a secret door for his story. Lots of bodies come and go through that door in the old New England house in Fred Carmichael's murder mystery/comedy Exit the Body, most without rhyme or reason. A few, though, have comic purpose, so if you can close your mind to the improbabilities that Carmichael lays out and then stumbles over, you might have a halfway decent time at Ace Theatre.
Although he may wish he were Agatha Christie, Carmichael is actually heavily influenced by late-night TV reruns. That would be fine if he created characters with as much life as the ones in Murder, She Wrote or Columbo. But, no, he'd rather put that door in a closet — Jessica Fletcher never had to contend with anything so downright improbable. It's not his only mistake, but it's a big one.
Successful mystery writer Crane Hammond (Jane Almquist) rents an old house in New England to recharge her batteries before she begins another bestseller. While Crane's acerbic gal-Friday Kate (Carolyn Corsano Wong) bitches about the lack of noise and how many trees there are, we meet the odd collection of locals: Vernon (Elbert Daugherty), the cranky town sheriff and taxi driver; Jenny (Cathy Ransom), the incompetent housekeeper whose idea of an ice bucket is putting ice cubes in a bucket; and Helen (Leona Hoegsberg), the busybody realtor who constantly drops in to check on her celebrity renter. Down the road is Crane's best friend Lillian (Nancy McVille), a famous fashion designer who has secretly married her boyfriend Lyle (K.R. Kretz). Among various bodies lurking in that overused closet are petty hood Randolph (Cris Keller), who's seeking diamonds hidden somewhere in the old house, and amnesiac Philip (Chad Thackston/Glen Lambert), who's been conked on the head and can't remember why he's there.
Every character sneaks in at two a.m. to search for the loot. Doors open and close, with everyone just missing everybody else, which would be a lot funnier if director Karen Daugherty had used a stopwatch instead of a sledgehammer. Wong rightly tackles her character like Eve Arden channeling Bette Midler, and it's her zingy way with a one-liner that gives the play momentum and much of its enjoyment. Otherwise, it's an uneventful night in front of the TV.
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