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On Theater: A ribald romp with Newport’s ‘Ambassador’

On Theater: A ribald romp with Newport’s ‘Ambassador’
Nancy Higley and Craig Sullivan’s characters are indeed amorous in the Newport Theatre Arts Center’s production of “The Amorous Ambassador,” which runs in Newport Beach until Dec. 9. (Photo courtesy of the Newport Theatre Arts Center)

Farce, when properly executed, can be hilariously effective for a live theater audience, such as the folks laughing their socks off at the Newport Theatre Arts Center, where “The Amorous Ambassador” has taken residence.

Michael Parker’s bullet-paced comedy about a lascivious American envoy to England who strives to get close to the natives succeeds not only on the strength of frenetic situations but also with witty wordplay. Pinpoint timing and swift tempo are demanded.

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Both are brilliantly exhibited by director Bob Fetes, whose consummate skill as an actor (“Moonlight & Magnolias,” “Lend Me a Tenor”) has carried over to his directorial acumen. The physical comedy demands of “Ambassador” are particularly tricky, and Fetes handles them expertly, expanding the talents of a first-rate cast.

The play is set in the 1990s, and Bill Clinton is president. And at Newport, the actor playing the lustful ambassador, Craig Sullivan, not only bears a striking physical resemblance to that era’s POTUS but also captures his voice pattern. Sullivan reaps howls of laughter as he pursues both a willing neighbor (Nancy Higley) and his daughter’s very unwilling boyfriend (an energetic Christopher Diem, who’s dressed in drag).

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Higley tickles as the equally amorous neighbor, sporting a French maid’s outfit for a little round of fun and games with Sullivan, who’s dressed as Tarzan. His delectable daughter, also seeking some secretive sex, is briskly enacted by a delightful Emily Porr, while Rhonda Goldblatt effectively bookends the show as her not-so-saintly mother.

The young object of the daughter’s affection, a nervous English lad, is the busiest character in the cast and Diem displays prodigious gymnastic talent in the role. Andrew Margolin, as a bull-headed Marine Corps captain obsessed with conspiracy theories, also pursues him.

Matt Koutroulis steals the parts of the show that aren’t nailed down as the “soul of discretion” butler who becomes entangled (figuratively and literally) in the shenanigans. And Victoria Serra is a pure howl as perhaps the world’s dizziest blonde secretary (“I’d fire you if I could find a chimp that could type,” Sullivan snaps).

No fewer than six doors populate the set, splendidly designed by Andrew Otero, and all are used vigorously. Jackson Halphide and Brian Page chip in with appropriate sound and lighting effects, respectively.

The big question raised by this show is that this play has been around for two decades, so why hasn’t it been done locally before this? Thankfully, it’s here now in a terrific production at the Newport Theatre Arts Center.

Tom Titus reviews local theater.

IF YOU GO

What: “The Amorous Ambassador”

Where: Newport Theatre Arts Center, 2501 Cliff Drive, Newport Beach

When: Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. until Dec. 9

Cost: $20

Call: (949) 631-9288

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