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Costa Mesa’s American Coast Theater Company was born last summer with a memorable production of the classic drama “A Streetcar Named Desire.” This year, the company has ventured as far from that genre as humanly possible.

With “Bullshot Crummond,” written by committee and overflowing with slapstick and sight gags, the theater company demonstrates its artistic range. And if you think comedy is easier to produce than drama, then take a closer look at the production now occupying the Lyceum Theater stage at Vanguard University.

“Bullshot,” which parodies the vintage detective movies of the 1930s (such as “Bulldog Drummond”), is a wild and crazy exercise that seems less a play than an elongated skit from the old “Carol Burnett Show.” Its farcical melodramatic style is abetted by outlandish props and sound effects.


Susan K. Berkompas, who heads Vanguard’s theater department and rendered a superb Blanche in last summer’s “Streetcar,” is a triple threat in “Bullshot.” She not only directs and portrays a comic villainess, she also came up with the hilarious sound plot so essential to a production of this type.

Berkompas is the deliciously scheming femme fatale to James Whitson’s evil German spy (this being the World War II period) and the pair complement each other splendidly, reveling in their comical dastardly doings. Whitson is particularly effective while playing both his own character and a hired Italian assassin in a series of quick changes.

In the title role of the peerless English detective, Rene Scheys brings all the smug self-assurance of a Maxwell Smart as he stalwartly battles the forces of evil. Scheys is impressively in tune with the play’s farcical format, relishing his moments of triumph and keeping a perpetual stiff upper lip when the wickets get sticky.

As the damsel in distress (or whose father is in distress), Heaven Peabody is chirpily charming, asserting her independence even while falling for the self-absorbed Crummond. Don’t bring any water glasses into the theater, as her shrieks surely will shatter them.

While Berkompas does the work of three people, Markus Parker accomplishes the tasks of seven — portraying a collection of assorted oddballs and capturing some of the play’s funniest moments. This Vanguard graduate makes a welcome return in an exhausting array of characters.

Paul Eggington’s spare unit setting works well for the production, particularly with its two revolving panels. Costume designers Lia M. Hansen and Cecie McClelland have created some beautifully outlandish outfits, while Erin Wendorf rates a big hand for her vast collection of comic properties.

Following “Bullshot Crummond,” which closes Aug. 10, Gavin and Patti MacLeod will take the stage for a one-weekend production of “Love Letters” Aug. 22 to 24. Meanwhile, five comedic actors strut their stuff in “Bullshot Crummond.” May the farce be with them.

WHAT: “Bullshot Crummond”

WHO: American Coast Theater Company.

WHERE: Vanguard University, 55 Fair Drive, Costa Mesa

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays until Aug. 10

COST: $20-$25

CALL: (714) 619-6424

‘Sordid Lives’ bursts out of the closet

If you think Del Shores’ “Sordid Lives” is the funniest play to come down the pike since his earlier “Daddy’s Dyin’, Who’s Got the Will?” ... well, as Jeff Foxworthy would observe, you might be a redneck.

But while yee-haw, dirt-kicking Texans abound in “Sordid Lives,” the Costa Mesa Civic Playhouse’s new comedy shifts focus to alternative lifestyles that have driven two of its characters far out of the Lone Star State. One is a closeted New York actor, the other a long-incarcerated, cross-dressing sanitarium patient undergoing a fruitless regimen of “de-homosexualization.”

These characters make a huge impact in the second act, but the first act features the locals of Winters, Texas (population 2,280), where a grandmotherly lady has just suffered a fatal accident by tripping over the wooden legs of her lover after a motel tryst.

The ripples generated by this event spread with hilarious results in director Michael Dale Brown’s envelope-pushing production, enriched by a boldly energetic cast, as the survivors grieve, each in his or her own way — two of them enacting a “Thelma and Louise”-style vengeance on the local bar crowd.

Outrageous interpretations run rampant throughout the first act, but two performers stand out — Rusty Vance’s grieving wooden-legged philanderer and Leigh Anne Patterson as his infuriated wife, both gong the extra comedic mile for outlandish effect. The second act belongs to Ron Grigsby as the flamboyant, cross-dressing “Brother Boy,” doomed to a lifetime of useless therapy.

Barbara Duncan Brown also impresses as the torn-up sister of the deceased who picked the wrong time to give up smoking. Kay Richey and Norma Jean Riddick add comic punch as squabbling survivors.

Brothers Wardell and Odell Owens (Jim Thoms and Travis Stolp) enhance the redneck atmosphere in the tavern scene, where they join Vance as half-dressed victims of Patterson’s rifle-packing revenge. Tiffany McQuay and Rick Hardgrove complete this scene as local barflies (the latter a clergyman), while vocalist Laura Lindahl brightens the atmosphere, making country music palatable.

When the scene shifts to the sanitarium, therapist Jenny Lanning — who has her own ambitious agenda — takes an unorthodox crack at exposing Grigsby’s masculine side, with predictable results. Meanwhile, Ryan Holihan shares his inner torments of suppressing his gay nature with an unseen shrink and the audience.

Director Brown also has designed the adaptable setting, which morphs from a living room to a bar to a funeral home. Costumes aren’t credited, but they’re terrific, as are the wigs, designed by Jon Sparks. Steven Vasquez and Rob Lehde handle the tricky sound and lighting cues.

Beneath its outrageous comedy, “Sordid Lives” is an appeal for tolerance regarding alternate lifestyles and quirky behavior. The Costa Mesa show offers both.

WHAT: “Sordid Lives”

WHERE: Costa Mesa Civic Playhouse, 611 Hamilton St., Costa Mesa

WHEN: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays through Aug. 10

COST: $18 - $20

CALL: (949) 650-5269

TOM TITUS reviews local theater for the Daily Pilot. His reviews appear Thursdays.