A smart, funny, sophisticated, incisive satire of old-school Orange County conservatives vs. the progressive LGBT minority in their midst would make for a terrific World Premiere production at Santa Ana’s Theatre Out. Unfortunately, Andy Black and Patricia Milton’s Strange Bedfellows is not that play.

 Black and Milton’s witless script revolves around the election campaign of former Laguna Beach city attorney Nathan Zimmerman (Nick McGee) for the post of Orange County District Attorney, the previous Democratic candidate having been struck dead by lightening while giving a speech at the 18th hole of the Mission Viejo Golf Course, her underwire bra wiring having served as a lightning rod.

Heading Nathan’s campaign is Latino whiz kid Antonio Marquez (Tito Ortiz), though if high-powered ad executive Brick Madison (Robert P. Purcell) has his way, Antonio will soon be jumping ship and promoting Matka Vodka to the gay Hispanic population.

 Antonio, along with sassy gay intern Cesar Villa (Icarus Zavala) and TV reporter Desdemona Revere (Karen Wray), aka “Orange County’s answer to Lady Macbeth” or “The Wicked Witch Of The Fourth Estate,” are in campaign headquarters awaiting Nathan’s arrival when the candidate shows up wearing only a leather vest and seatless chaps (and flashing a pair of pale white buns), an outfit hand-picked for the Costa Mesa city council meeting he’s been attending in support of a proposed Dyke March and one that makes Antonio’s efforts to promote Nathan as a centrist candidate seem a lost cause from the get-go.

 Complicating matters is the impending execution of wacky redheaded husband killer Fern Mulligan (Glenda Wright), driven by domestic violence to commit murder and whose death by lethal injection Nathan hopes to prevent.

Before long, a pair of police officers (Purcell returning sans cowboy hat as Ernest Timms and Jeff Budner as Dave DelVecchio) have barged into Nathan’s campaign headquarters with the news that “Mad” Mulligan has escaped and is expected to show up there within minutes, which she does, though not before wandering back and forth on the ledge outside Nathan’s second floor office, far from the only time that Strange Bedfellows’ characters behave without rhyme or reason.

 That Black and Milton’s play is not without its laughs is about the best thing that can be said about it, that and the fact that it runs only an hour and quarter. As for character development, sophistication, logic, or any semblance of believability, Orange County theatergoers will have to go searching elsewhere, as none of the above appears even remotely present in this community theater-level one-act. Take for example Nathan’s nutso plan to go on TV and support Fern’s decision to escape to Tijuana, or a closet door that conveniently but preposterously locks from the inside, or the toy cap pistols the police officers sport. Also, having the same actor play both Brick and Officer Ernest, meaty roles each, makes little sense in a production in which no one else plays more than one part.  Didn’t enough character actors show up at auditions?

 Director Kevin L. Cordova seems stumped as to what to make of Black and Milton’s script, which on more than one occasion has two sets of conversations going on simultaneously (played here at equal volume), gives wacky Fern an abruptly high-drama monolog (which Wright inexplicably emotes to the audience rather than to her scene partners), and has supposedly intelligent characters like Nathan spouting lines like, “Run sister. It’s only eleven hours to Vancouver” when learning of Fern’s escape.

The cast, several of whom have done outstanding work in previous Theatre Out productions, seem stranded here, a few of them miscast, one fumbling at times for her lines, another seeming too green for his role. There’s little or no romantic chemistry between McGee and Ortiz, the height difference between Budner and Wray makes for an amusing contrast but doesn’t help credibility issues, and a makeout session between Purcell and Wright is just plain embarrassing.

 Where Strange Bedfellows does score deserved points is for scenic designer Joey Baital’s nicely detailed campaign headquarters set, David C. Carnevale’s well-chosen costumes and highly professional lighting, and some cleverly chosen ring tones for Antonio, Cesar, and Desdemona.

Strange Bedfellows is produced by Baital and Carnevale. Alexis Stansfield is stage manager.

In the past twelve months alone, Theatre Out has set the bar high with its outstanding productions of The Violet Hour, Avenue Q, Dog Sees God, and Cabaret. Even Spring Awakening, while more problematic, had much to recommend in it. It’s therefore particularly disappointing to see Strange Bedfellows let that bar sink so low. Theatre Out is capable of much better, and LGBT audiences deserve considerably more than what Strange Bedfellows delivers.

Theatre Out, The Empire Theatre, 202 N. Broadway, Santa Ana.

–Steven Stanley
August 18, 2012
Photos: Stephen Rack

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