Screwballs is a mostly very entertaining and often hilarious blend of wacky
characters and situations and the body swapping premise of such films as Freaky
Friday and Like Father, Like Son.

Writer/director Jonathan Edelman has set his screwball farce at Casa Milagro, a
Southwest vacation resort run by Abby (Martha Gehman) and her semi-inept
Native American jack-of-all-trades Frankie Lamebull  (Kyle T. Heffner).

Frankie: He said terrible things about you.
Abby: What did he say?
Frankie: He said you were an incompetent idiot for not firing me.

Abby is the divorced mother of nerdy Dino (Daniel Farber), who has taken a job in a
sex-toy shop because where better to meet available and interested girls than in a
sex-toy shop?  Nerd # 2 in Abby’s life is boyfriend Neil (Herb Mendelsohn), an
obsessive-compulsive latex glove wearing germaphobe. Casa Milagro resort guests
include married psychotherapists Dr. Jeff and Dr. Sandra, who hyphenate their last
name one way Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays and the opposite way Tuesdays,
Thursdays, and Saturdays.  Sundays?  They’re “working on it.”  The doctors are
accompanied by their nubile blonde daughter Kimberly (Jessica Goldapple), a
phone sex operator who converses with her clients via an ear cell phone whether
alone or among friends, leading to several amusing sequences including one where
Dino thinks she’s talking dirty to him and not to a client.  There’s also Abby’s self-
centered best friend Joanie (Shauna Bloom).

Meanwhile, on Rio Diablo river, Abby’s ex husband Guy (Scott Weintraub) is
conducting a river rafting business (River Rats Rafting) with best buddy Sal (Vince
Cefalu). (They used to sell paintings done by monkeys, but now they “help boys
become men.”) There’s been a rafting accident which has left Signore Manginolia
stranded in a ravine and Guy and Sal without a rope to rescue him, so they head
over to Abby’s Casa Milagro to borrow one, which provides Guy with a convenient
excuse to attempt a reconciliation with Abby.

Frankie doesn’t look particularly Native American, but he does have a magic Indian
potion which when imbibed by two individuals, causes them to swap bodies for
about 24 hours. though they can only see the change when looking at their

The first act bogs down about halfway through, the laughs becoming relatively few,
but things perk up considerably when (in a strobe lights flashing Act 1 finale) Abby
and Guy mistakenly drink Frankie’s elixir and the body switch is on, leading to some
memorable Act 2 mayhem.

Screwball’s clever conceit is that we, the audience see Abby and Guy as they see
themselves, not as others see them.  Though other characters see Ms. Gehman as
Guy, we still see the actress, and the same (or the opposite) for Mr. Weintraub as
Abby.  Thus:

When Abby (who still thinks he’s Guy and is being played by a man) tells Joanie that
she likes women, Dino, overhearing the conversation, jumps to the conclusion that
his mother is gay. Abby (whom we see as Guy) can’t figure out why on earth Neil
smooches him (though a mouth-to-mouth man-on-man kiss would have been
funnier than a tame peck on the cheek).  And when Guy (who still thinks he is Abby
and is being played by Ms. Gehman) reacts to Sal as Abby/a woman would, Sal
(who sees Guy/a man in front of him) realizes that he may have been harboring
romantic feelings for his best friend. Confused?  It’s less so on stage than in print.

Abby and Guy do soon enough become aware of the switcheroo, not long after
which a character improbably named Richard Corndaug arrives with the expressed
purpose of buying Casa Milagro from Abby and turning it into a “Man’s Man’s
Resort.” Since the outside world now sees Guy as Abby, it’s up to Guy to meet with
Corndaug (who is actually more of a hound dog).  But before you can say
Allakhazam, Guy and Abby return to their own bodies. Trouble is, Guy doesn’t
realize that the outside world (and Corndaug) now see him as a man–wearing a
slinky low-cut spaghetti strapped evening gown.  The laughs are loud and repeated
as Weintraub, in a tour de force performance, slinks and slithers and attempts to
seduce a man who sees in front of him—a lipsticked man in an evening gown.   
There’s an especially hilarious bit where Frankie attempts through body language to
convey to Guy that Guy is back to being himself, but Guy thinks Frankie is showing
him how to be a woman, so he just imitates him, to uproarious effect.  

Screwballs, uneven as it is, has far more bright spots than dull ones, and if it feels a bit
unfinished (and perhaps a tad too complicated), it still offers its audience and cast
many delights. In addition to the marvelous Weintraub, Cefalu, as a man coming to
grips what just may be nascent homosexuality, is especially good, as is Goldapple,
who charms and delights in her phone sex conversations, and in a very funny
sequence where she instructs Guy in how to be a woman.

Charles Erven has designed a marvelous bi-level set in desert southwest hues, with
potted cacti, patio furniture, a hot tub, and bar. Rick Zimmerman creates several
ingenious lighting effects, and Robert Arturo Ramirez’ sound design incorporates
many nostalgic Dean Martin tunes.  Ruth Talley of Make Believe Inc. deserves high
marks for her costumes, especially Weintraub’s spangled black gown.

In a few words: Screwballs is zany, fun, escapist entertainment.

Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles.

–Steven Stanley
November 1, 2007

Comments are closed.