Lakewood Theatre Company continues its love affair with the Golden Age of Hollywood by rolling out lock, stock and smoking barrel a side-splitting homage to the dashing detective. Bullshot Crummond: The Evil Eye of Jabar and The Invisible Bride of Death, in its world-premiere production, is a parody H.C. McNeile’s popular 1920s and ’30s series of books featuring the war hero Bulldog Drummond, and also takes its cues from Inspector Clouseau, while maintaining the stiff British upper lip. It’s based on the original Bullshot Crummond, which was first staged in 1974 and was later put on the silver screen by George Harrison’s Handmade Films. Ron House, one of the original actors and writers, wrote the new play, it’s directed by another original actor/writer, Alan Shearman, and it’s one of Lakewood’s most extravagant productions this season.
Bullshot, played by Spencer Conway, is a drop-dead handsome specimen of a man whose reputation and virility are due in part to his lapping-up of the English countryside and service to the crown during World War I. While popular opinion finds him to be a bangers-and-mash version of Philip Marlowe, Bullshot has a half-empty cerebral tank to take into battle against German spies. His lack of ingenuity recalls the naughty innuendos that made Peter Sellers’ Goon Show a smash hit and inspired a generation of comedy such as Monty Python’s Flying Circus, early Woody Allen, and the somewhat entertaining It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World. Bullshot Crummond is an American-written lampoon mashup of P.G. Wodehouse and Ian Fleming. Conway is the iconic caricature of the tally-ho officer strutting across stage with the imperialist swagger of a man out on a lion hunt in a zoo. His Jeeves is his fiancee, Rosemary, played by Kelly Stewart. Rosemary has the British lisp; she’s the milk-and-honey Elysian virgin soon to be caught up in a spy adventure. There are some over-the-top gaffes as they play out their romance, and it’s a nice laugh back to bawdy but less explicit times, when sex was more taboo.
The play is set in two parts and involves a mad scientist who has an invisibility device, an invisible city in Egypt, hypnotism, flying carpets, a snake charmer, and some eccentric relations in the form of an aunt and uncle. There’s a childlike freedom to the non sequiturs, which take twists and turns as they connect the plot. It’s a good-hearted humor reminiscent of the 1970s, taking some jabs at the status quo, but unlike today’s more pointed comedy that takes much of its cues from George Carlin, making the tragic funny. Bullshot’s just funny to be funny.
Stephanie Heuston is the German Mata Hari, Lenya, and is given a number of stunning costume changes to set off her statuesque beauty. She has a venomous but sensual German accent, and pulls off her vanity and sexiness with ease. Her co-conspirator is the balded, Nehru jacket-wearing Otto (Rick Warren), a neat sendup of the leather-gloved man in the high back chair ready to push the button that will end the world.
John Gerth’s set design has recreated the villainous lair of a late 1960s Cold War thriller, with Turing Machine-looking computers and a moving map of the noble island of Great Britain. With the aid of technical director Kurt Herman and stage manager/special props manager Felix Kelsey, Lakewood has replicated the famous English train car with its shiny wood finish and a moving backdrop in the window. Part of the surreal humor of Bullshot Crummond lies in the elaborate sets, which in some scenes meet the least expensive of props. During one, Bullshot and friend are racing in wooden reproductions of roadsters, wearing the requisite flat caps and goggles, when they meet a herd of sheep. The sheep are large stuffed animals visibly tossed at the actors as they sprint forward.
Since Bullshot Crummond is also a screwball romance, Bullshot and Rosemary endure a lot of mixups in their journey to save the world, but of course, in the end, love triumphs. While it’s easy to stay home and watch James Bond back in action on your couch, this is a rare opportunity to see a live, well-acted cast move through a Ken Adams-like evil lair on a theater stage.
Bullshot Crummond: The Evil Eye of Jabar and The Invisible Bride of Death continues through April 10 at the Lakewood Center for the Arts in Lake Oswego. Ticket and schedule information are here.