Funny Mummy

'The Mummy's Curse' is a play that's impressive in its silliness.

No bad pun stays under wraps in the Gaslight Theatre's comic melodrama The Mummy's Curse, or All's Pharaoh's in Love and War. Writer-director Peter Van Slyke's pyramid scheme doesn't pay off audience members who invest a great deal of attention in the details of plot and characterization, but if you step back a bit, you can't help but be impressed by this monument to silliness.

It's the classic mummy-movie story, with a bit of Indiana Jones thrown in. It's 1928; English Egyptologist Reese Pinch Hammonds and his daughter, Cecily, are in Cairo to search for relics from the tomb of Pharaoh Amahotec. Pinch Hammonds is financed by the wealthy Lord Archibald Cravington and his ineffectual son, Reginald, who happens to be engaged to Cecily. The hard work, of course, is done by an American adventurer, "Bones" O'Banion. As he keeps reminding everyone, Danger is his middle name. Now, there's a conversation starter.

Of course, villainous forces also seek the secrets of the mummy's tomb. Chief among them is Kahlood, a high priest who dresses like Sidney Greenstreet in Casablanca and doesn't exactly walk like an Egyptian. Kahlood is abetted by Jazeer, a duplicitous native, and Zazira, a fortune teller. Inevitably, the mummified Pharaoh Amahotec (try not to linger over those first three syllables) revives and seeks to restore his former glory--for all eternity. Somehow, this involves abducting Cecily.

Egyptian antiquities aren't the only things that get pillaged along the way; as usual, the show misappropriates several pop songs, from "That Old Black Magic" to anything more recent that mentions sand and such.

Goofy as it all is, Gaslight is at its best when things go wrong. When actors forget their lines, they tend to ad lib their way out of trouble with aplomb, even while acknowledging that they're screwing up. And their impromptu asides can be better than their scripted lines. Luckily, this happened a couple of times at the first of last Saturday night's two shows. At one point, Joe Cooper as Jazeer was moaning his way at length through a near-death scene. "I'm not doing well," he groaned. Muttered James Gooden as Kahlood, "You'll have another chance at 9:30."

Gooden is an excellently oily villain, although the patter in his main song doesn't always slide through the musical accompaniment. Cooper, as usual, is the quintessential kvetching henchman, more adept at stealing scenes than at propagating evil in the world. They're abetted by the energetic Kylie Arnold as Zazira, and eventually led by the ever-suave Armen Dirtadian as the mummy/pharaoh, still in mellifluous voice after 3,000 years.

Christopher Leslie hits the right all-American notes as "Bones" O'Banion, and Sarah Vanek's Cecily is the classic melodrama heroine, adorable and mostly innocent, but never vacuous. John Brownlee does what he can with the not particularly interesting role of Pinch Hammonds, while Dan Gunther as the two Cravingtons has the silly upper-class English persona down pat.

Enthusiastic pianist Linda Ackermann and drummer Jonathan Westfall provide both support and guidance through the two-hour evening, including the pre-show old-timey sing-along and post-show olio, a suite of old Hollywood tunes intercut with fewer blackout jokes than usual. This part of the program features a wonderful version of the first half or so of The Wizard of Oz condensed to about 10 minutes. It even includes accurately sized Munchkins--three guys poking their faces through screens and manipulating dancing "feet" with their hands, just like on the old Danny Kaye show, or Captain Kangaroo, or some dimly remembered TV program from long ago. If it was a part of popular culture, no matter how obscure, sometime between 1950 and 1980, trust the Gaslight people to jolt it back to life.

No Gaslight production would be complete without intentionally cheesy, inventively kooky scenic effects. Designer Tom Benson doesn't quite go all-out with this show, but he does add a few fun touches. There's the obligatory chase sequence, with the backdrop flowing from left to right as actors jog in place or pretend to row their flimsy boats down the Nile, and in the olio, Dorothy's farmhouse goes whirling through the air most effectively.

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