By Dale King
Delray Beach Playhouse kicks off its 71st season on a farcically comic note as it brings The Amorous Ambassador to the main stage in the spiffed-up venue on the east shore of Lake Ida.
Those who caught last year’s season opener shouldn’t worry if they suffer an intense feeling of déjà vu. The Amorous Ambassador is, in fact, the sequel to The Sensuous Senator, the first show of DBP’s 2016-2017 schedule.
The common denominator in both is Harry Douglas, played with whimsical lecherousness by veteran Delray actor Mark Hetelson. The Amorous Ambassador seems somehow funnier than last year’s entry, perhaps because there are more characters involved in more oddball situations and the jokes seem a bit fresher.
Coincidentally, the author, Michael Parker, was a retired Brit living in Boca Raton when he began to observe first-hand the difficulties experienced by American actors trying to cope with British farce. So, Parker decided to write a play of his own, using all the best-loved devices of the traditional British farce in a play with a distinctly American setting.
The result was his first “American farce,” The Sensuous Senator, which premiered at Delray Beach Playhouse in 1988. Two years later, Parker drafted the sequel, The Amorous Ambassador, which places the same lead character into a similarly libidinous situation. However, Douglas has moved from senator to ambassador.
So, the farce seems right at home in the ambassador’s mansion, an elegant country home outside London. The stage set was nicely crafted by scenic artist Norma O’Hep, who included plenty of doors to slam, to run out of and into.
Though he may have a new title, “Hormone Harry” has the same burning desire for extramarital frolics. Only this time, he’s not the only one thusly appointed. While he’s trying to arrange a sexual liaison for the days when his wife, Lois (Clelia Patrizio) is away for the weekend, daughter Debbie (Kari Budyk) is secretly setting up a romantic weekend with her boyfriend, Joe (Jim Tyminski, in a gender-bending dual role). Even Harry’s secretary, Faye (Andrea Gotlieb) decides to use Harry’s “empty house” for an assignation with a Marine captain.
Harry’s usually unflappable British butler Perkins (Michael Beecher) also has something up his sleeve that isn’t revealed until the final curtain.
As the play opens, efforts are being made throughout the house to arrange clandestine rendezvous. It takes a modern-day turn when Marine Capt. South (Frank Stanzione) arrives with word that a bomb scare has been called in to the British Embassy. As a result, no one can leave the ambassador’s home.
So the weekend scramble goes internal. Stage Manager Marilyn Mishkin keeps order while bedlam begins to reign. Harry still finds time to drop his drawers and jump in the sack with next-door neighbor Marion (longtime DBP actress Marcie Hall, who took the role just a week before opening night, and has it down pat). Joe, meanwhile, spends considerable time in and out of a wig and robe to mask his identity.
The surprise ending is a delight – a perfect wrap for the new season’s debut.
Artistic Director Randolph DelLago is back, and handles the directorial chores with ease.
Hetelson, remarkably, is beginning his 21st year at Delray Playhouse. At home in comic and dramatic scenes, he is the perfect schemer in this show. Budyk is utterly charming as the sexy daughter with lust on her mind. She is also blessed with talents ranging from funny to serious. Her list of appearances here and at Lake Worth Playhouse is lengthy, and includes an award for best actress in Other Desert Cities at DBP.
Tyminski expends a lot of energy running from one farcical situation to another in this randy romp. Stanzione does an excellent job playing the “perfect soldier” in what may be a tribute to Col. Oliver North. (His character name is Capt. South.) He plays the military part in a comically stoic way.
Gotlieb and Patrizio have small, but important roles in the overall scheme of this production. Actually, Gotlieb played the role of Faye Baker in the 1990 production at DBP. Patrizio, who did an outstanding job as Sonia in last year’s finale production of Vanya & Sonia & Masha & Spike, has appeared in a raft of dramatic and musical roles.
The Amorous Ambassador concludes its run with shows Friday at 8, Saturday at 2 and 8 and Sunday at 2 at the Delray Beach Playhouse, 950 NW 9th St. (Lake Shore Drive), Delray Beach. All tickets are $30 and may be purchased online at www.delraybeachplayhouse or by calling 561-272-1281.