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Theater Review : Santa Susana's 'Bullshot' Just for Fun of It

March 02, 1995|PHILIP BRANDES | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

For deft physical comedy, whimsical staging, and mind-numbing silliness, Santa Susana Repertory Company's revival of "Bullshot Crummond" at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza is hard to beat.

This ever-popular, relentlessly inane spoof of 1930s British adventure serials is the collective brainchild of London's aptly named Low Moan Spectacular troupe, and the casting of co-creators Ron House and Diz White in their original roles ensures the production's scrupulous authenticity--this is as close to pure Bullshot as you're likely to get.

Dashing heroics, sophisticated damsels in distress and coolly efficient villainy are nowhere to be found as the ludicrous plot unfolds amid sparse cartoon cutout props. Instead, director Stephen Rothman and his talented cast set out to upend every cliched convention in the genre, from car chases and kidnaped scientists to a cockamamie cliffhanger that bridges the intermission.

Igniting all these shenanigans is House's sterling performance as the nefarious German spy Otto von Brunno. Squinting malevolently through his monocle, the shaven-headed Von Brunno spits his thickly accented platitudes with contemptuous glee as he prepares to flood the market with fake diamonds.

A guaranteed jaw-dropping hoot is the confrontation between Von Brunno and a Chicago hit man also played by House, accomplished through lightning-fast costume changes as he walks behind a screen as one character and emerges as the other without seeming to break his stride.

Robust, aristocratic-looking Oliver Muirhead dons the title role as the well-bred--and perhaps inbred--hero Hugh (Bullshot) Crummond, whose uncanny knack for deciphering obscure clues while overlooking the obvious makes him an engaging cross between super-sleuth and idiot.

Armed with an extended braying laugh powered by seemingly inexhaustible lung power, White provides the romantic interest as Rosemary Fenton, the ditzy blond who seeks Crummond's help in freeing her father, held captive by Von Brunno. Kristin Norton has a hyper-campy romp as Von Brunno's equally dastardly wife and co-conspirator, Lenya. Both women fuel their fair share of adult--which is to say utterly juvenile--innuendo.

But the evening's biggest treat is the succession of oddball characters supplied by versatile, rubber-limbed Mark Blankfield, who surrounds the principals with nonstop frantic lunacy--most notably as Rosemary's scatter-brained scientist, Crummond's bumbling, sputtering sidekick, and the long-suffering snooty waiter Crummond mistakes for Von Brunno in an extended slapstick restaurant sequence.

Rothman's quick-paced staging keeps the laughs coming fast and furious. The sheer size of the Civic Arts Plaza's Forum Theatre is not an ideal match for material that revels in its low-rent splendor--the sparse set is dwarfed by the deep, empty stage and some of the rapid-fire exchanges are hard to catch from the rear seats. Venue scale notwithstanding, however, the production affords a priceless opportunity for cheap humor.

Just be sure and check your brain in the lobby before curtain.

* "Bullshot Crummond," Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza Forum Theatre, 2100 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks. Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2:30 and 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2:30 p.m. Ends March 19. $17 . (805) 449-2787. Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.

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