Pixellated with Thomas Hardy moods and Blade Runner visuals, Bailey Rum’s “A Shropshire Dalliance,” directed by Saffron Mendes-Munns for the Long Beach Bit Players, offers an appetizing tale of espionage, food chemistry, and small town love. This tale of star-crossed lovers will rivet you, white-knuckled and breathless, to the edge of your pew (Literally: a church auctioned them off).
Showing a jeepers-creepers propensity for the innominate, the indeterminate, and the asymmetrical, all of which push you to the brink of irreality, Mendes-Munns’s unexpected (I write that with glee) take on Rum’s rum tale of despair and indigestion is staccato and bracing. Swoon and glisten you will at the scintillating dialogue (chock-a-block full of bon mots, epigrams, double- and triple-entendres), the metronomic pacing (Is that the grandfather clock in the lobby or is that my heart?), and cocksure, no, make that priapic performances.
Ming Cho Vase’s set, a scaled-up replica of the interior of a 1964 Kenmore oven and Sally Watsup’s lighting, a single, flickering, low wattage light bulb whose strobe casts a pallor on the already crepuscular set, contribute mightily to the production’s claustrophobic and hinky Dante-esque tenor. (Fear not, OSHA, that’s not congealed grease splattered on the stage walls but an anodyne admixture of pomade, pink chalk, and flaxseed). And who knew pudding could become such an effective metaphor for the steps along the road to love?
The ensemble cast was tight beyond belief (I was tight as well, but my sense of the word pre-dates the other one by thirty years), especially G. Willickers, who finally can put his Alan Alda tweaker physique and snooker parlor nonchalance to good use. You wouldn’t expect that those Don Knotts arms and Bundt Pan shoulders could wreck such havoc on those chemists cum Korean Secret Service operatives, a skirmish that – I kid you not - sounds like ducks quacking underwater. The violence was not in the least gratuitous though I do wonder if that overly-cavalier handling of a mezzaluna was scripted or not. The blood-dripping sinews looked real enough; those screeches were downright Method; but, script-wise, it seemed like an odd time to drop the curtain.
With her ears pierced by tinkling gherkins forks, dressed in an egg carton serape, the always-comely Tetra Hedron, in her first Bit Player appearance (and hopefully not her last), plays Willickers's love interest. Their first meeting, engineered by matchmaker Gladys Knudson Grout (played, Borges-esouly enough, by Gladys Knudsen Grout. Go figure), is the stuff of screwball comedy legend. Watch them tentatively approach each other at a Candy Tasting soiree; watch them warm to each other as they experience such pre-World War Two old school confections as Ramos Fizz/Clorox bonbons, Mango/Pepto Bismol petit fours, and Styrofoam-textured, Suet Newtons. (True to cheeky form, the Bit Players serve their own frivolous if not curious concoctions at the break. My favorites were the Rhubarb Cremes, with an oleaginous center of okra and Bovril, and the not-to-be-missed Iceplant Brittle, dusted with enamel particles and pulverized aspirin.)
Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers have nothing on our cheeky lovebirds when Tetra, incandescent and lithe in that silky pink whatchmacallit, pirouettes with Willickers to the Dance of the Colanders, swooning pre-coital like pink cotton candy being spun on a ship’s mast. I can still see it, three days later.
Performances are 2:30 am (Union rules), Friday and Saturday. The show runs until the wrecking ball arrives. Admission is free. The Venetian Theatre is located at 918 E. 4th Street, Long Beach. For more information call (562) 437-4396.