The Studio Players tickle Hollywood's underbelly in 'Clark Gable Slept Here'
After years of car chases, smoldering love scenes, fistfights and the usual DNA of action movies, Patrick Zane has the zenith of his career in sight: a Golden Globe for artistic excellence in a quality film.
The dead male prostitute sprawled face down in his hotel suite on awards night will certainly cool those accolades.
After a panicked hotel maid discovers the body, Zane's Hollywood agent is determined not to let it wreck his star's only potential hour of world-class fame. Zane's swash is becoming unbuckled, or, as Jarrod "Hilly" Hilliard observes, "At 46 years old here, he's past his expiration date."
How Hilly will manage to remove that body, and any association of Zane with it, is the premise of "Clark Gable Slept Here," The Studio Players production currently onstage. The black comedy by Michael McKeever ("Hand of God") is at the Joan Jenks Auditorium in Golden Gate Community Center through June 19. (For details, see the information box with this story.)
Its plot could be listed under the definition of pandemonium in Webster's, according to Scott Lilly, who is directing. There's the mysterious dwarf with a doctor's license who was in the room with the body, and who has to be stopped from talking — if he can be found. To make the cadaver disappear, a fixer is called in: Morgan Wright, a woman with ice coursing through her veins, but with a similar vulnerability to Murphy's law as everyone else seems to be having.
"She is a savage, ruthless woman, and she will get the job done by any means necessary," said Danielle Channell. "She still does have quite a few funny lines, though."
"I love this play. The characters are so much fun in their own right. We’re trying to fix one person’s mess, but the number of people it takes to get that done is amazing."
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And, Channell said, she suspects just this kind of situation "happens a lot more than we know about."
As a professional in her steel-edged trade, Morgan has the same mission Hilly (Perry Ventro) does: Keep their client unsullied on his big night. Ventro's Hilly, he said, is a "survivor. And he’s sarcastic, but his sardonic wit has helped him survive. When I’m talking to you (as Hilly) I really have a sharp tongue, but I’m telling you from experience."
Unfortunately, that experience isn't helping him with this body, and there are surprises in store for all of them, including Estella, the hysterical maid who made the discovery.
"Every time you think you’re on the right track, it turns," declared Lilly, who has had this play tucked into his "must do" stack of works since not long after it premiered in 2014 in Miami. "It's a lot, but it goes so fast."
Lilly agreed with Channell that there are more possibly more wild escapades than the public will ever know that go on in Hollywood. The insanity the public actually does know from its Chateau Marmont — for which this hotel is named — are enough for spawn sequels to "Clark Gable Slept Here."
"It's the reality of Hollywood is what it comes down to," he said. But it's a darkly hilarious reality here, said Lilly, producing artistic director for The Studio Players. "I saw the advertisement for it in Miami and said what is this? So I got the script, and said, 'THIS is off the wall.'"
He has entrusted two familiar Players stars with its big lines: Ventro, who played the lead in "Torch Song" and Channell, who has run the course from a boozy big sis in "One Slight Hitch" to the sugar-coated sister-in-law of "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof."
But everyone in this play contributes to its chaos.
"This is like an ensemble. I would say they all have their moments," Lilly said. That even includes the corpse, Ricky Shafer, as Travis, who has to do a few minutes as a nude — from behind — on the bed before Hilly orders Estella to "throw a blanket on him. His ass is glaring."
"We're all awesome," agreed Ventro of his fellow cast. "And it's funny as hell."
Harriet Howard Heithaus covers arts and entertainment for the Naples Daily News/naplesnews.com. Reach her at 239-253-8936.
If you go
'Clark Gable Slept Here'
When: June 3-19, 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays
Where: Joan Jenks Auditorium, Golden Gate Community Center, 4701 Golden Gate Parkway, Naples
What: The Studio Players of the Michael McKeever black comedy. Some language, brief nudity.
Tickets: $30, $15 students with ID
To buy: thestudioplayers.org or 239-398-9192
Good to know: The concession stand popcorn is free on Thursdays.