The five performers in "You've Got Hate Mail," the latest production at Golden West College, never rise from a sitting position at their computers, yet they pull off one of the funniest pieces of theater you're likely to see all season.
Created by the veteran comedy writers Billy Van Zandt and Jane Milmore, who have carved out a career with such risque farces as "Love, Sex, and the I.R.S.," "Suitehearts" and "What the Bellhop Saw" (to name just a few that have been presented locally), "You've Got Hate Mail" ventures into the world of electronic communication and what can happen when emails are sent to an unintended recipient.
The central figure in this online farce is Richard (Lawrence Hemingway), a young lawyer who's having a hot time with lusty receptionist Wanda (Heather Wallace) in elevators, restrooms and other convenient venues. The trouble starts when he emails a steamy message to Wanda and sends it erroneously to his wife, Stephanie (Michelle Terrill).
Contributing backup support are Stephanie's best friend Peg (Raven Hild) and Richard's buddy George (James Monroe), who soon become major players in this sexy scenario. Since there's no physical confrontation involved, the audience members must use their imaginations to conjure the comical chain of events.
Director Tom Amen keeps the action moving, even if the actors don't, through pinpoint timing, rapid delivery and facial contortions. And he's got the perfect hand of four aces and a joker with which to work.
Hemingway acts as the fulcrum of the story, positioned as the "center square" and painfully enduring the consequences of his dalliance with the office hottie, the wrath of his jealous wife and the slings and arrows of her confidant. He can confide in his buddy, but this fellow has other priorities.
Wallace raises the temperature considerably as she proposes new assignations in lip-licking fashion, virtually steaming up the monitor screen. Her spitfire reaction to being dumped to save her lover's marriage is one of the key points of the evening.
As the comely but naive wife, new to online communication, who's been putting up with her husband's indiscretions for a decade, Terrill is a delightful contrast. When her resentment reaches the boiling point, it manifests itself in a surprising, and hilarious, direction.
Hild enacts Terrill's best friend in wry, second-banana fashion, emailing daggers at Hemingway's culpable character while sending scathing anonymous messages to Wallace, which further stir the already roiling mixture.
Probably the funniest role in the show is Monroe's goofy pal, obsessed with naked pictures of Hillary Clinton and quite envious of his buddy's success in the sack. He puts down Wallace's character for her "bad skin," but manages to get next to the other two females, if only temporarily.
Terry Otto's symmetrical stage design, resembling a "Hollywood Squares" setting, is ideal for the production, abetted nicely by Sigrid Hammer Wolf's lighting effects. The pictures displayed at the close of the show are especially entertaining.
"You've Got Hate Mail" is the latest, and possibly the greatest, laugh-fest from the prolific minds of Van Zandt and Milmore, sort of a comical answer to another sit-down play, "Love Letters." It's an LOL evening of computer chicanery at Golden West College.
TOM TITUS reviews local theater for the Independent.
If You Go
What: "You've Got Hate Mail"
Where: Golden West College Mainstage Theater, Huntington Beach
When: Closing performances at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday
Cost: $13 to $15