By Dale King
Talk about art imitating life.
The Delray Beach Playhouse is opening its 70th theatrical season with The Sensuous Senator, a rollicking romp about a presidential candidate who staunchly stands for morality, family and the sanctity of marriage. But when the wife isn’t around, he’s ready to bed down his sexy secretary or spend a lusty night with a titillatingly attired babe from an escort service.
Undoubtedly, the powers that be at DBP brought this all-American farce to the Delray stage — where the play by Michael Parker had its world premiere in 1988 — to coincide with the presidential campaign that’s now chugging along in high gear. Could they have known that the national movement would come to mirror the wild and boisterous behavior of this loopy show?
The Playhouse folks said a full house showed up for opening night just two evenings after Hurricane Matthew passed through – a weekend that many area theaters lost to the threatening weather. That leaves just five shows remaining – from Thursday to Sunday – for the hijinks to play out on the Delray stage.
Parker’s grown-up sex farce, one that largely follows the style of England’s Ray Cooney (Run for Your Wife, Caught in the Net, Wife Begins at Forty), follows the exploits of one Sen. Harry Douglas. The show opens with him announcing a presidential run. And with his wife and supporters nearby, he pledges his campaign will stick to the straight and narrow.
But later, after his wife leaves for a trip to Chicago, Harry takes the straight and narrow path to the telephone and calls his luscious secretary, looking for a roll in his big comfy bed. Turns out she’s busy, so Harry calls an escort service to dispatch one of its best and brightest.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what happens next. We won’t bore you with the details, but they are packed with humor. Imagine Harry’s plans for a night of connubial bliss being interrupted by visits from a crusty old conservative congressman, his own politically adept (or should it be inept?) nephew, not just one, but two scantily clad ladies and a persistent cop who we fear might be preparing to take law and order into his own hands.
And Harry is also being stalked by a pesky, persistent reporter from a scandal sheet called The National Intruder, who is literally trying to catch him with his pants down.
This wild and wooly sendup of politics and morality pulls the audience right into the action with little need for explanation. Seeing, you might say, is believing. And the audience sees a lot.
Anyone who follows the Delray Beach Playhouse can probably guess who stars as the libidinous Senator Douglas. Of course, it’s DBP regular Mark Hetelson, who begins his 20th year on the Delray stage. A much-acclaimed actor, he has a particular knack for comedy, though he has created many characters. He last showed up as Hercule Poirot last season in Agatha Christie’s murder mystery Black Coffee.
Portraying the senator’s sensual secretary is Kari Budyk, who has logged considerable time at local theatrical venues – particularly Delray. Though comedy seems her forte, she is equally comfortable with more serious roles. She and Hetelson shared the stage a while back in Other People’s Money.
Mitzi Feinn, the stereotypical tabloid reporter, is a real scene-stealer in that role. Early on, she shows that she’s going to be a pain in the neck. When she tries to catch the senator in a lie at a press conference, she gets thrown out. A former dancer and kindergarten teacher in real life, Feinn has come full circle to acting.
Marcie Hall is quietly entertaining as the senator’s wife, who seems so innocent – a bit like Mrs. Howell on Gilligan’s Island. By playing the character a bit coyly, she draws our attention as we hope she’ll tip her hand.
Jim Tyminski – the “everyman” character in last year’s production of Little Shop of Horrors – is excellent as the senator’s naïve, often-befuddled nephew, Jack, himself a congressman, which is apparently why he is so comfortable running around in his underwear.
His scenes with the beautiful Forman Lauren, playing call girl Fiona (he thinks her “agency” is the CIA) are priceless. Both actors heed the playwright’s dictum that “less is more.” Even though the situation is totally outrageous, they play it straight, with no gratuitous mugging for cheap laughs.
Jim McConville, as elderly, straight-arrow Congressman Clyde Salt, is a delight, looking and behaving just as you would expect an elder statesman to. His naiveté also makes him seem kiddingly anachronistic in this farcical production.
Frank Stanzione is omnipresent as the policeman who does more to disrupt the goings-on in the household than to protect and serve.
Kudos as usual to director Randolph DelLago, who lets the farce be with you. Scenic designer Cindi Taylor has fashioned another great set, with plenty of doors to slam and stairways to run up and down. Overall, it’s a smooth, well-timed and funny show.
The Sensuous Senator is playing Thursday through Sunday at the Delray Beach Playhouse, 950 NW 9th St. (Lake Shore Drive), Delray Beach. All tickets are $30 and may be purchased online at delraybeachplayhouse.com or by calling 561-272-1281, Ext. 4.