The latest pop cultural icon to get the Desert Star Playhouse’s loopy, satiric treatment is James Bond. The title, which you probably could have come up with yourself, is “James Blonde: Agent 7-Eleven,” and the show, which you also probably could have come up with yourself, is the Desert Star’s usual mix of obvious jokes and genuinely clever parody.
The plot is gleefully irrelevant, but we’ll summarize it anyway. Evil Dr. Maximus (yes, his first name is Gluttius, and yes, there are plenty of butt jokes), played by the fey Kenneth Wayne, has successfully killed each of the last few secret agents — Nos. 708, 709 and 710. Which brings us to the new guy, James Blonde (Ed Farnsworth), agent 711. (“How convenient,” remarks one character. When the audience groans, Maximus says, “Get used to it, they’re everywhere.” Indeed.)
With the help of his broad Chinese stereotype assistant Koto (Chad Wainwright), his henchperson Venus (Gayle Castleton), and his robot Anne Droid (Portia Early), Maximus wants to kill James Blonde. He probably wants to take over the world, too, I guess; I don’t really remember (and I just saw it two hours ago). Like I said, the plot is irrelevant.
Adding to the fun is Emma Singleton (Julie Ann Christensen), who trains Blonde and also falls in love with him; and their boss, the frequently-killed Mr. Kenney (director Scott Holman).
Christensen and Farnsworth as Emma and Blonde actually have a chemistry together, and they’re one of the most fun couples I’ve seen at the Desert Star. Farnsworth is handsome and goofy, imitating Austin Powers just a little too much, but generally an outstanding, solid actor for the lead role.
Holman is perhaps the most enjoyable to watch in DSP’s stable of actors. In all his roles, he seems to realize the intentional lameness of the script, and yet simultaneously fully commit himself to it. His “James Blonde” role is no exception. In a recent performance, he was supposed to rescue Blonde from hanging off a cliff. However, Blonde was clearly just lying on the floor, vaguely hanging on to a fake rock, and it didn’t look like he was even PRETENDING to hang off a cliff. Holman said, “I’ve got to save James,” and then, realizing that no matter how much the audience suspended its disbelief, there was no way it looked like James was in any danger, he ad-libbed, “…from this Floor of Death.” Perfect. Holman can be part of the absurdity as much as the next actor, but he can also step back and say, “Look, folks, I know it’s dumb, too. Let’s all enjoy it together.”
Early has a good moment as her robot character sings “Nobody Does it Better” in a monotone; however, the songs in general in this show are lacking, with most of the original lyrics intact, and the few parody lyrics unimaginative.
Wainwright’s Chinese whipping boy Koto is irritating. The outrageous accent is so thick as to render the character unintelligible in many cases, and Wainwright seems intent on hogging the audience’s attention whenever possible, an attitude that carries over into the post-show Olio. He tries so hard to be funny that he usually isn’t.
Overlooking a few faults, the show succeeds at its major goal, to be funny. The Desert Star has become more consistent and reliable the last few shows; this one continues the streak of giddy, joyful entertainment.
We first noticed the wonderful Scott Holman in "Hamlet: This Ain't Exactly Shakespeare," though we had seen him before (he had the lead in the Desert Star "Dracula" parody). He and Paul Murphy (who we were disappointed not to see in this show) are the two actors who seem most aware of the lameness of the scripts. And since the audiences in general don't seem to realize just how lame the shows are -- one woman at this particular show laughed hysterically at every single line uttered -- we feel like Murphy and Holman are sharing an inside joke with us. (In fact, we were the only group to laugh at Holman's "Floor of Death" line.)
When I say the jokes are "bad," I really mean it. But we love the Desert Star. If we thought the Desert Star were trying to foist this kind of cheese upon the public and pass it off as brilliance, we'd be upset. Knowing that at least a few of the actors KNOW the jokes are bad makes it OK.
And besides, each show has moments of true brilliance. Really. Even snotty theater know-it-alls can appreciate some of the subtle gags.
This was the first show in a while not to have any Enid Greene jokes. We appreciated that.
Julie Ann Christensen, who played James Blonde's love interest in this show, is very pretty and genuinely funny, which is a rare combination. If I thought for a second she'd say yes, I'd ask her out.