REVIEW: The Amorous Ambassador - Newport Theatre Arts Center, Newport Beach
Updated: Jun 20
"... highly improbable, totally exaggerated, exorbitant slapstick buffoonery –
but, ohhhh, so much fun!!"
For a fun night out at the theatre, farcical romps on stage work very well for a few laughs, if nothing more than to simply get your senses regenerated. So, in genuine old-school innocence, and in the tradition of “Boeing, Boeing,” “Don’t Dress for Dinner,” “Move Over, Miss Markham,” and quite a few others similar, the Newport Theatre Arts Center (NTAC), one of the finest community theaters in Orange County, presents an uproarious comic note as it brings “The Amorous Ambassador” in all its superfluous hilarity to the stage. With spectacular views overlooking the Pacific, totally free parking, perfect seats, complimentary refreshments and friendly staff, this theater has been hard to beat since their grand opening in 1979.
Directed by Bob Fetes, also a performer throughout southern California, this show will be his second at this venue serving at the helm. Stage managed by Marty Miller and assistant directed by Dawson Van Steenhouse, the play comes from the mind of Author Michael Parker, who has been active in theatre almost all his life. As an English actor, working in America, Mr. Parker became acutely aware of the difficulties experienced by American theatre companies producing English works, in particular modern farces. So he challenged himself to write a play which would integrate traditional British farce into a distinctly American setting. The result was a Rabelaisian play, called “The Sensuous Senator,” which was inspired by the then current sex scandal involving Senator Gary Hart, and introduced us to the character, “Hormone Harry.”
Encouraged by the popularity of this British "naughty but nice" concept, he went on to write a sequel, based in the 1990s, which places the same lead character into a similarly libidinous situation, who also bears an uncanny resemblance to a previous president and his bawdy shenanigans called, “The Amorous Ambassador.” The rest, as they say…is history. (So sorry I missed the audition.)
Though he may have a new title in this newest upgrade, “Hormone Harry” Douglas as the Ambassador has the same burning desire for extramarital frolics as he had as the Senator. But while he’s trying to live out a two-timing fantasy with sexy next door neighbor Marian Murdoch during the time his wife, Lois, is away for the weekend, his daughter, Debbie, is also secretly setting up a romantic weekend with her boyfriend, Joe, in a gender-bending dual role. Meanwhile, security agent Marine Captain South has declared an “M” emergency and looking for a bombing terrorist on the grounds. But that doesn’t stop the love.
Parker's "The Amorous Ambassador," with its slightly off-color humor (but all in good taste), has all the trappings of modern farce: lots of slamming doors, actors rushing from room to room, ridiculous situations that you just know could not really happen, and lots of oblique references to all things sexual without anything actually happening.
Ambassador Douglas (Craig Sullivan), emissary to Great Britain, but back to his old tricks again, tells his wife Lois (Rhonda Goldstein), that he has arranged a golf outing in Scotland for the weekend. Lois in turn tells Harry that she too will be gone for the weekend at a spa, and that their daughter Debbie (Emily Porr) will be gone visiting a girlfriend. Each then tells Perkins, their newly hired butler, of their plans, and he promises to be the soul of discretion, stoically watching each of them leave for the weekend.
Matt Koutroulis plays Perkins as the epitome of the proper English butler, yet is the center of much of the play's circumstantial humor. He is unwavering through it all and delivers some of the show's funniest lines without cracking a smile. Despite the chaos around him, Perkins remains in control, keeping the illicit trysts running smoothly.
As Harry secretly returns with a romantic rendezvous already planned for head-turner Marian (Nancy Higley), both plan to act out their fantasies as her, a French maid and him, as Tarzan. Debbie returns with her boyfriend Joe (Christopher Diem), and barely avoids seeing her father in a champagne/caviar door-slammer sequence, which was quite entertaining. Harry’s secretary, Faye Baker (Victoria Serra), and Captain South of the U.S. Marine Corps soon arrive in the wake of a bomb threat at the embassy and must set-up communications in Harry’s country home. South places a squad of marines around the perimeter, and everyone is sealed in.
Andrew Margolin, as Captain South, makes his entrance with flag-waving, fatigue-wearing verve, and he earns major laughs for his disciplined indifference to surprise attacks by an "enemy." Spending much time in covert ops camouflage looking for the bad guys in this randy romp, the good captain gets derailed time after time, but mostly by doors knocking him cold. Mr. Margolin, a playwright, producer and actor himself, does an excellent job playing the “perfect soldier” in what may be a tribute to Col. Oliver North.
It soon becomes apparent that the accident-prone Faye has not been hired for her secretarial abilities, and comes very close to destroying Great Britain. The ditsy Faye, who delivers each line with a complete lack of self-awareness, develops a thing for the unflappable, stuffy English chamberlain, Perkins, which quickly escalates when a mishap with crazy glue bonds the lucky butler’s hand firmly to the backside of Ms. Perkins in a really getting-to-know-you rollicking scene that is laugh-out-loud funny.
HARRY: What are you doing with my secretary?
PERKINS: The fact is sir, she was helping me.
HARRY: And why do you need my secretary’s help?
PERKINS: I got a little behind in my work.
HARRY: A little behind in your work?
PERKINS: Yes sir, the fact is, right now, I seem to have my hands full.
As Joe, Mr. Diem is particularly animated, and quite acrobatic as well. Playing two parts (Joe and Josephine) with perfect comic-synchrony, he spends his time in precarious cross-dressing situations, but mostly running from Captain South as Joe and the Ambassador as Josephine. (Harry is suddenly smitten by Debbie’s boyfriend’s disguise and attempts to seduce him.) Meanwhile, Perkins manages to get his tie caught in Debbie’s jacket zipper ramming his head deep into her treasure chest while Joe manages to hook his pants zipper to the back of Debbie’s dress in a very unusual menage a…well, let’s just call it an entanglement.
Emily Porr is utterly charming as the sexy daughter with lust on her mind. Blessed with amazing talents and a recent degree, she has already acquired a full slate of traditional theatre, and it seems British farce is not out of her realm either. Her role as Debbie shows not only her versatility as a polished comedian, but also professional, crafted skills.
The costumes and stage set was nicely crafted by scenic artist Andrew Otero, which included plenty of doors to slam, six in all, although one or two that could use some WD40. Lighting Design was managed by Jackson Halphide, Sound is by Brian Page and the Producer is Rae Cohen.
As Mr. Parker says, “There is no literary value in my plays whatsoever. They’re designed to put you in a chair, give you a good laugh and send you home with tears running down your cheeks. If you watch people coming out of my plays, they’re all smiles, beaming ear to ear, tired of laughing.”
From the gymnastics of the Captain to the dead-pan of the butler and all in between, “The Amorous Ambassador” is traditional farce at its best – you don’t need to look at the audience to see if they were enjoying themselves – you could tell from the belly laughs filling the auditorium! Playing Nov. 9th through Dec. 9th, catch it before it's gone! Ticket information is at http://www.ntaconline.com/tickets
Yes, it is highly improbable, totally exaggerated, exorbitant slapstick buffoonery – but, ohhhh,
so much fun!!