“Who, or what, is Bullshot Crummond?” asked my editor’s e-mail. I had no idea myself. It seems we’d both missed out on a singular British phenomenon, a situation Center REP is anxious to rectify with the dizzily hilarious Bullshot Crummond, two acts of cliff-hanging suspense, over-the-top villainy, and patchy-looking stuffed attack falcons on strings.
An online genealogy search suggests there may have actually been a Captain Hewitt “Bulldog” Drummond. In the hands of novelist Herman Cyril McNeile (who preferred, not surprisingly, to go by “Sapper”), Drummond became bored in peacetime and placed a newspaper ad looking for wrongs to right and villains to fight. With his tremendous derring-do and what a British ad agency calls his “cheerful ugliness,” Drummond became the hero of British schoolboys and the protagonist of ten films featuring variously Ray Milland, John Howard, Anthony Quinn, and Ronald Coleman. Dr. Who fans may recognize the Drummond character in the seventeenth-season serial City of Death, cowritten by sci-fi icon Douglas Adams, who would later incorporate parts of City into his novel Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency.
Drummond’s pervasive influence wasn’t lost on Ron House, Alan Shearman, and Diz White, the founders of Low Moan Spectacular, a British theater company known for its ecstatically goofy improvisational comedy. Bullshot Crummond is Low Moan’s take on the ’30s-era adventurer, with a heavy emphasis on physical comedy and absurd situations — a “converse force field” generator that induces “magnetic paralysis,” a spitting war, and a captive inventor being injected with “Cranial Stimulant X,” the most powerful truth serum ever developed. Low Moan brought Bullshot to San Francisco in 1976, where it ran for four years (eventually ex-Beatle George Harrison made a film of it, starring several Low Moan members). Now Low Moan founder and Chicago native Ron House is back in the Bay Area, steering a highly skilled cast of five through a production that looks like it might be as fun to perform as it is to watch.
The plot is strictly B-movie, with a fair helping of Sherlock Holmes thrown in. Professor Fenton has been kidnapped by the ultra-nasty Otto and Lenya Von Bruno, who wish to extricate, as painfully as possible, his formula for “zinzetic” diamonds. The Von Brunos hope to dominate the diamond market and cause great suffering. The problem is, the professor’s lovely daughter Rosemary has turned to dashing adventurer Bullshot Crummond, who threatens to foil the dastardly duo’s evil scheme.
The play is rife with sight gags — a car chase where the same cutout car serves both pursuers and prey, a disguise that involves a character wearing a duck on his head, and a tarantula the size of a housecat and the aforementioned attack falcon, their strings quite obvious. But the actors are definitely the funniest thing about this show, with their impeccable timing and complete physical commitment.
Scott Coopwood is stuffy, chauvinist Crummond, by turns totally inept and preternaturally intelligent. “If you weren’t a girl, you’d make a mighty fine chap,” he says approvingly to Rosemary, before bungling his way through a sword fight with Von Bruno. Angela Goodsell is charming as Rosemary, especially when she’s hitting herself with her pocketbook or cutting loose with an extended laugh that seems physically impossible. I did not recognize Melanie Slivka in her sleek red-and-black Lenya Von Bruno getup and truly impressive pointy breasts. The nastily seductive, butt-kicking Lenya gets all the best costumes, with wonderfully portentous lines such as “The double-edged sword of fate has more than one side!” Glen Micheletti, as Lenya’s evil companion Otto, does his requisite monocle proud, hissing and scheming and chortling. Ken Sonkin nails all the other characters, and there are a lot of them: the abused waiter, the mafioso, the Professor, the deranged henchman, you name it.
Bullshot Crummond brings home the pleasure of live performance — the energy and excitement of enjoying a very funny performance surrounded by people who are having a good time as well.