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What the Bellhop Saw -01/27/1999

Creative team: Director Mary Simon; Scenic Designer Tom Weber; Lighting Designer Nick Firrantello.

Play: What the Bellhop Saw, by Billy Van Zandt and Jane Millmore
Venue: The Barn II Dinner Theatre, Goodfield
Dates: Friday, Saturday and Sunday through March 7
Cost: $22.50-$24.50, including show and buffet
Box office: (309) 965-2545


It's an odd concept -- building a light, fluffy sex farce around Salmon Rushdie.

Remember him? He was the author whose book, "Satanic Verses," sparked a fury in the Middle East, landing him on the Ayatollah's hit list.

Playwrights Billy Van Zandt and Jane Millmore apparently thought the Rushdie controversy was fair game for farce, since they've put a Rushdie-like character, called Mr. Fish (Salmon = Fish, get it?) at the center of "What the Bellhop Saw."

For the Barn II in Goodfield, "Bellhop" has been updated slightly, with references to Brad Pitt and Bill Clinton, but the basic idea is still there, as a whole bunch of goofy people all descend on the same hotel room at the same time, with everybody frantically running in and out of doors, donning disguises, hiding and scheming and generally getting in trouble. Coincidences and misunderstandings abound, and the standard sort of smirky contrivances surface to keep things moving.

Besides the author-in-jeopardy, the cast of characters includes a shrewish wife who wants blood; a bimbo maid who wants the spotlight; a bimbo secretary who wants love; an inept CIA agent who has trouble hanging onto his gun; an inept assassin who has trouble hanging onto his bomb; and an inept accountant who has trouble hanging onto his pants.

Mix them all up, stick half of them in matching bellboy outfits, add some balloons and a whole lot of visual humor, and you have "What the Bellhop Saw."

Director Mary Simon, who also stars as the battle-ax in stretch-pants, keeps her cast running, with several clever bed-tricks and an extended Keystone Cops routine that ends Act I. Simon knows how to time the action for laughs, and the audience seems to enjoy all the craziness.

Still, this is a show best enjoyed if you go in with the right attitude and check your logic at the door. Where did the suitcase of money come from? Why can't people escape through that door where the man in the fez keeps entering? Why would they start singing "Shine on, Harvest Moon" all of a sudden?

Better not to even worry about it.

Among the cast, Simon stands out as a crowd-pleaser and Pat Gaik makes hapless accountant Georgie appealing and amusing. I also enjoyed the performance of Lisa Axsom, who showed good energy and charm as the maid with a fondness for fame.

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