In a career that continues to soar two decades after his first play was produced, Michael McKeever has premiered his dramas, comedies and short plays at theaters all over South Florida.
Nearly always, he’s involved in those productions as the author, sometimes as an actor, at times as a set designer. The plays get their start here, then go on to productions (sometimes multiple productions) at regional theaters around the United States and in Europe, and in the case of “Daniel’s Husband,” Off-Broadway.
But the just opened Main Street Players production of McKeever’s tartly uproarious “Clark Gable Slept Here” is something new: a second production of a Carbonell Award-winning McKeever play by a different group of South Florida theater artists.
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“Clark Gable,” which begins with a naked dead man face down on a rug and gets progressively wilder as the story unfolds, had its world premiere in 2014 at Miami’s Zoetic Stage. McKeever, one of Zoetic’s founders, was in that production alongside actors whose roles were custom-tailored to their considerable talents.
So the question for anyone who saw that first production is this: How does “Clark Gable Slept Here,” as interpreted by a new cast and creative team, hold up? The answer? Hilariously well.
Staged by John Ferry, the comedy explores the seamier side of Hollywood, the reality lurking just underneath Tinseltown’s Botoxed and styled-to-the-hilt façade.
On the night of the Golden Globes, star manager Jarrod “Hilly” Hilliard (Clinton Archambault) has been summoned to the penthouse suite of the swanky Chateau Marmont due to the previously noted corpse. The suite has been occupied by Hilly’s client Patrick Zane, a married action star and Globe nominee whose work in a serious role could change the course of his career. That is, unless someone discovers the truth about the dead guy (Roderick Randle), who happens to be a high-end male hooker wearing nothing more than a gold chain, earrings and the dusting of a tell-tale white powder around his nasal region.
Agitated hotel manager Gage Holland (Chris D’Angelo) and Estella (Marcela Paguaga), the Spanish-speaking chambermaid who found the body, want Hilly to call the cops and remove the body tout de suite, because this suite (allegedly the very same spot where Clark Gable proposed to Carole Lombard) is booked for a Golden Globes afterparty.
Hilly, who drops an f-bomb within seconds of walking into the room, has other ideas. He phones Morgan Wright (Sandi Stock), a Hollywood fixer who will stop at nothing to make a problem go away. Think Ray Donovan in an evening gown.
There are wild twists and turns aplenty in McKeever’s plot, but since spoilers might get the volatile Morgan riled up, we’ll skip the details. But we will say that one involves a dwarf, a doctor’s bag and a whole bunch of missing cocaine.
Amanda Sparhawk’s sleek suite set, Angelina Esposito’s costumes (evening wear for Hilly and Morgan, hotel uniforms for Gage and Estella, and very little for the dead guy, whose “stage” name turns out to be Travis), Marcelo Ferreira’s lighting and Jason Lyzniak’s sound design (featuring some extremely loud gunshots) all help create a world in which the actors can romp. And romp they do.
Archambault’s pragmatic Hilly, who has spent a couple of years engineering his client’s career shift, sees his big-bucks payoff about to vanish — and he’s not about to let that happen. The actor conveys Hilly’s cynicism, his naked (well, tuxedoed) ambition and his understanding of Hollywood mythmaking.
Stock, whose broken foot prompted McKeever to add a funny character-consistent line accounting for the walking boot she has to wear, plays Morgan as Hilly’s ruthless soul mate. She’s just as foul-mouthed as he is, just as eager to solve Hilly’s “problem” so she can get back to flirting with Jon Hamm at the ceremony. Her ability to be seductively soothing one minute and a cold-hearted truth teller the next are just two of the weapons in her considerable arsenal.
D’Angelo plays Gage as a man on the verge of a nervous breakdown, while Paguaga’s artfully sly and deeply funny Estella has some choice Spanish words for the Hollywood types who won’t let her leave the suite. For a “dead” man, the magnetic Randle has plenty to say.
In its second South Florida go-around, “Clark Gable Slept Here” proves again that it’s a well-crafted dark comedy blending truth and absurdity. Interpreted differently, the play’s five juicy roles still deliver the laughs. And in stressful times, that’s as good as gold.
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If you go
▪ What: ‘Clark Gable Slept Here’ by Michael McKeever.
▪ Where: Main Street Playhouse, 6766 Main St., Miami Lakes.
▪ When: 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through Feb. 25.
▪ Cost: $30 ($25 for students and seniors).
▪ Information: 305-558-3737 or www.mainstreetplayers.com.