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Theater review: Five Course Love

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Beginning with the garish, glowing turquoise paint on the walls of the set, subtlety is on short ration these days at Actor's Theatre. But if you're hungry for a supersized slapstick buffet, you should be setting your GPS for 615 E. Stonewall Street and chowing down on the boffo buffoonery of Five Course Love.

We begin with a greenhorn who mistakenly lands at a cowboy restaurant in search of his online hookup and finds a gun-toting filly ready for riding. It gets sillier than that in Greg Coffin's script. Over the full 87 minutes (plus intermission), a panorama of comedic staples time-tested and proven in sitcoms, movies, and Saturday morning cartoons is spread out before us, never quite reaching the depth of a crème brûlée.

Among the broad caricatures are a mafia hit man, a Nazi waiter in lederhosen, a dominatrix, and a bandito in standard-issue Zorro attire -- all before intermission. My guess is that you can predict the nationality of each of the restaurants that host these protagonists. The five courses are served up with 27 different Coffin songs sung by 15 characters.

If you are unfamiliar with the off-Broadway mentality at Actor's Theatre, you'll be shocked to learn that the entire show is performed by a cast of three -- with the same number of musicians. On the other hand, loyalists will remember Joe Klosek from previous productions on Stonewall stretching back to his 2005 musical debut in tick, tick...BOOM! Starting with the greenhorn and peaking with the lederhosened waiter, Klosek's roles aren't quite as juicy as the quintet delivered by Jon Parker Douglas, whose Charlotte dossier began at Actor's Theatre in Slut nearly three years ago.

Douglas gets to wear the cowboy waiter get-up and the Zorro/Frito Bandito cape, to seethe with Al Pacino recklessness as the Mafioso, and to rule the final burger shop scene with an insouciance on loan from The Fonz and Happy Days. It's all outsized, over-the-top, and resolutely silly, with some outrageous choreography by Christy Edney and director Craig Spradley ladled on as lagniappe.

The wild card here is Maret Seitz, a finalist for CL's 2009 Newcomer of the Year award to be sure, yet still making her Charlotte debut after two fine comedy performances up at Davidson College, in Tartuffe and Barefoot in the Park. Seitz proves to be a sensational musical performer right out of the gate as the predatory cowgirl Barbie, bringing bawdiness to "Jumpin' the Gun" and blithe cold-heartedness to "I Loved You When I Thought Your Name Was Ken." The dominatrix Gretchen is the other gem, but there's a piquant moment at the cantina when Seitz wields a puppet reminiscent of Kukla, Fran, and Ollie.

Chip Decker's sound design Jamey Varnadore's costumes both seem to be the work of men whose initial concepts were dismissed as "not silly enough!" Spradley goads his cast to enough excesses -- and ultra ethnicity -- throughout Five Course to absolutely sail over the lulls in musical quality, though his lively pacing sometimes sacrifices the intelligibility of Coffin's lyrics.

No sight or sound gag is too corny for Spradley here, but he surpasses himself in staging Guillermo the bandito's final exit. We can accuse Spradley of subtlety just once, when he has Gretchen deliver her lament astride a chair, alluding to the decadence of Sally Bowles in Cabaret. That's about all the erudition you'll need to thoroughly enjoy this madcap musical.

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