It’s been nearly four decades since British master police detective wannabe Hugh “Bullshot” Crummond made his stage debut, doing his darnedest to outwit fiendish German villain Otto Von Bruno and his seductive “niece” Lenya to the delight of audiences in England and the United States. Co-creator Ron House now brings back Bullshot, the Von Brunos, Bullshot’s blushing bride Rosemary, and a host of other outlandish 1930s characters in Bullshot Crummond & The Invisible Bride Of Death, getting its world premiere production at North Hollywood’s Whitmore-Lindley Theatre. The result is as hilarious and inventive a show as you’re likely to see this or any other holiday/New Year’s season.

Police investigation may well be Bullshot’s raison d’être, but it’s the hardly the first thing on his mind at lights up. He and Rosemary have finally tied the knot and are about to embark on a honeymoon hike through Northern Scotland, a bit of a disappointment to Rosemary, who had her heart set on the much warmer South of France, but as Bullshot tells her, “sun and beaches don’t build character.” Equally disappointing are the groom’s wedding gifts to his bride—an apron, dust pan, and scrub brush, not all that surprising though for a traditional sort of fellow like Bullshot. (“I’ve got a lot on my mind,” he informs her. “You don’t. You’re just a woman.”)

Bullshot and Mrs. Crummond are on the verge of consummating their marriage when news arrives that Dr. Morton Fenwick has escaped from a nearby prison for the criminally insane. The master detective and the mad scientist go way back, it turns out, back to Oxford where, in a schoolboy prank, young Morton was “debagged” by his classmates (i.e. stripped of his trousers), the first step in his descent into madness—and a desire to make himself invisible. Since then, Dr. Fenwick has indeed come up with a formula for invisibility, and as “irreversible madness is an unfortunate side effect of invisibility,” the discovery has driven him bonkers.

In an attempt to secure for himself the secret of invisibility, Otto Von Bruno concocts a plan to steal the crown jewels of England as they are being transported by train to Scotland, then exchange them for the Dr. Fenwick’s formula. Not about to see evil and insanity triumph over his beloved England, Bullshot agrees to undertake yet another dangerous mission—to retrieve the stolen jewels and keep them (and the secret of invisibility) out of the hands of archenemy Von Bruno and his German cohorts. Meanwhile, Otto has come up with a dastardly plan of his own—to eliminate Bullshot by hypnotizing Rosemary into murdering him the moment she hears the train conductor utter the words, “Tickets please.”

Act Two takes our heroes and villains to the Foreign Legion Post of Al Katar in the Jeebel Sahara where Arab baddie Al Shatain and his Devil’s Circle have overrun the French Defenders. (How’s that for a mouthful?)

The production’s five actors do bravura work bringing to life the play’s dozen visible characters in addiction to voicing a number of invisible ones. Native Londoner Oliver Muirhead is pitch-perfect as both Bullshot and the evil Al Shaitan, the charming Anastasia Roussel plays Rosemary and a belly-dancing temptress named Fatima, a dynamic Christian Rummel is Otto and French Colonel Claude Duvalle, the enticing Katie Boeck embodies Lenya and dotty Aunt Charlotte, and a fabulous Rodger Bumpass proves the evening’s most versatile performer as Dr. Fenwick, Sergeant LaFrais, Rachid, a British railway conductor (and others). Oh, and if any cast deserves a prize for keeping straight faces in the midst of lunacy, this one certainly does.

Like the original Bullshot Crummond, its sequel features sight gags galore, many involving characters (and props) which can be heard but not seen. When Otto is visited by the invisible Dr. Fenwick, he serves his guest a cocktail in an invisible glass, made with invisible alcohol and invisible ice cubes. Later, Otto uses an invisible silencer to shoot his gun without making a sound. One character is strangled by an invisible adversary, another gives one artificial resuscitation. (More about that shortly.)

Double entendres abound, a number of them referring to Bullshot’s impressive male member, which resembles nothing more than a hammerhead shark packed into tighty-whities. Lenya’s curvaceous torso gets its own share of attention, as when hen Otto learns that his so-called niece is returning to Berlin and declares, “How unfortunate, just as I was getting to know them” (gazing at her impressive curves) “…I mean her.” Later, when Rosemary attempts to give mouth-to-mouth to the invisible victim of a murder attempt, Bullshot tells her, “That’s not his mouth,” to which Rosemary replies with virginal innocence, “But it seems to have revived him.”

Other Invisible Bride highlights include a delicious “The Lady Or The Tiger?” moment, with a prisoner being offered a choice between two doors, one leading to an open field, the other to a pit of wild dogs. There’s also a hulking interrogator named Rachid who looks like nothing so much as the lovechild of Bigfoot and Frankenstein’s monster.

Playwright House, doing double duty as director, makes the audience’s imagination an integral part of the Bullshot experience. With a nearly furniture/prop-free black box set, it’s up to us to picture Bullshot hanging from the edge of a speeding train or flying a vintage aeroplane through the skies above North Africa. In the show’s tour-de-force moment, a quartet of characters engage in onstage combat—with only two actors playing all four roles.

Edwin Peraza has created a vivid sound design full of terrific sound effects, aided and abetted by Jonathan Beaudette’s original music, which captures the sound and feel of those 1930s movie serials. Paige Luke scores points too for her varied lighting design as does costume designer Stephanie Schoelzel for the cast’s many period outfits. Paul Storiale is coordinator and Kelly Rhone assistant director and stage manager.

No one gets credit for scenic design, perhaps because there is none—only a few black rehearsal boxes on a black box stage, several props, and not much else, and while Bullshot Crummond & The Invisible Bride Of Death does not need an elaborate set design, its World Premiere deserves more than it gets here.

Still, this is a minor quibble in a production that guarantees major laughs from all but the stodgiest of theatergoers. I had a ripping good time with Bullshot and the rest of Ron House’s creations, visible and invisible, an enthusiasm which seemed to be shared by the packed house around me.

Whitmore-Lindley Theatre, 11006 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood.
–Steven Stanley
January 2, 2011
Photos: Ty Donaldson

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