The News-Press - May 29, 2004

May 29, 2004
Section: Lifestyles
Page: 8E

`Dick Piston' pistol of comedy
Drew Sterwald

The cliches of classic film noir get an amusing send-up in Theatre Conspiracy's "The Adventures of Dick Piston, Hotel Detective: Prague-Nosis."

Think femme fatale with overly melodramatic facial expressions, blonde bombshell spouting sexual innuendoes and a private eye with a bent for deadpan narrative.

It's good for more than a few belly laughs, as it was when the Conspiracy gave the play its world premiere almost three years ago.

Time flies, and so does this show, originally directed by David Utz and revived by artistic director Bill Taylor. The first act is over before you know it, and the show comes in at less than two hours including intermission.

Taylor again dons the trench coat of Dick Piston to investigate a tangled case of stolen crown jewels and a missing person. He has a good handle on the kind of campy parody that gives Jeff Goode's script its considerable spark. He shows deft comic rhythm as the almost-straight man amid the chaos swirling around him, and his asides to the audience are as funny as they are true in their satirical skewering of Hollywood conventions.

The cast as a whole embraces the over-the-top humor. There's nothing subtle going on here, and that's what makes the show so entertaining.

Lisa Marie reprises her role as Pleasure Hello, a ditzy Franco-Czech movie star who rips open her bodice at the drop of a hat. She's a gifted comedienne who uses her body as well her brains to wring laughs from every scene.

Leanne Braman also has fun with her role as a mysterious Russian jewel thief. Her hammy facial expressions - wide eyes and sucked-in cheeks - evoke old silent movie actresses. Think Gloria Swanson in "Sunset Boulevard." Her accent seems to slip a bit from Russian to Spanish-sounding at times, but she's consistently funny.

Clement Valentine again plays Havel Presley, a pantless, pompadour-wearing man who figures somehow into the mystery. His vocal inflections ape Peter Lorre, and his physical presence is creepy and funny at the same time.

Jim Yarnes' character, a shady hypnotist, doesn't get as much stage time but he makes the most of what he's got. He milks laughs simply with his repetition of the word "amazing!"

If anything about this production falls short, it's the set, which is uncredited in the program. I don't recall if this aspect of the staging is exactly the same as it was three years ago, but I wonder if there's a better way to delineate the scene locations. On the other hand, maybe the way characters drift in and around the set is yet another dig at arbitrarily contrived movies.

Either way, it doesn't get in the way of enjoying an evening at camp.


What: The comedy "The Adventures of Dick Piston, Hotel Detective: Prague-Nosis"

Who: Theatre Conspiracy

Where: Foulds Theatre, Lee County Alliance for the Arts, 10091 McGregor Blvd., Fort Myers.

When: 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday through Saturday, June 5.

Tickets: $16; $7 for students.

Information: Call 936-3239.