When filmmaker Merian C. Cooper created King Kong in 1933, it was a tremendous achievement.
“Not only technically, but also in the story. It’s a great movie,” Derry writer Jack Neary said in a phone interview. The film was made just six years after the first “talkie” feature film, The Jazz Singer, but this one contained special effects with stop-motion models and an evocative love story whose climax scene — Kong snatching actress Ann Darrow and carrying her to the top of the Empire State Building — is one of the most well-known in film history.
But Neary always thought it’d be funny to learn what was going on in the hotel room next to the one blonde bombshell Ann Darrow was in before the big ape plucked her out and whisked her away. What did they think of the giant gorilla?
Neary came up with Kong’s Night Out, a slapstick, screwball comedy that premiered in Boston in 2006 and soon after showed in Detroit with Laverne and Shirley actors Cindy Williams and Eddy Mekka playing principal roles.
This weekend, the show premieres in New Hampshire. The Community Players of Concord will be the first community theater group to tackle the play, which follows the Players’ “season of laughter” 2013-2014 theme. Shortly before rehearsals began, Neary had an opportunity to talk with the director and hear the initial table reading.
“It was terrific. I hadn’t heard the play in a while, and I was very impressed with the caliber of talent in the room that night. Five or six of the actors hadn’t even read the play up until that point,” Neary said. “It was very encouraging to see how much they understood the style of comedy.”
That style is equipped with fast dialogue, slapstick humor and over-the-top characters that aren’t overly complicated but are overly dramatic, actress Deirdre Bridge said in a phone interview. (Among the characters are a couple of big-shot movie producers, a pompous, aging actress and a foul-smoking mother.) Bridge plays Bertrille Siegel, a glamorous, insincere gold-digging wife.
Bridge took on the role specifically because of the time period. She loves the glamorous sets designed by Jim Webber and the glamorous costumes designed by Gay Bean, but she also likes that the jokes are those people will still think are funny.
“It’s very current. It’s got some raunchy humor in it. … And it isn’t something that’s been done 1,000 times,” Bridge said.
It’s one plus side to writing old-fashioned shows in the present day.
“The fact that it was written recently makes it impossible to not have some awareness of what a contemporary audience would accept,” Neary said. “It has really fast dialogue, which was part of the era — people didn’t waste time getting the story across.”
The play, which director Michael Coppola says is reminiscent of Noises Off and Arsenic and Old Lace, begins with producer Myron Siegel’s anger at learning people are returning tickets for his Foxy Felicia show in favor of a top-secret attraction that will be unveiled the same night by Siegel’s producing nemesis Carl Denham. He and a few others hatch a plan to steal the rumored creature and add him to Foxy Felicia. Meanwhile, Ann Darrow’s fiance desperately tries to keep her out of Kong’s clutches.
If the rumors are true, you can expect an appearance by the big ape, as well.
The characters and plot weren’t written to be deep, but more to be funny, Neary said, and so getting the comedy right was so important to Coppola. He brought in a theater newbie, Jim Baker of Derry, who has film and stand-up comedy experience. The transition from film to stage and from stand-up to script has been a bit strange, Baker said, but he’s not completely out of his element.
“There are moments where, if the lines aren’t delivered at the right time, it can throw off something that’s supposed to be funny,” Baker said. “It’s not necessarily important just to say the line at the right time, but more so, it needs to be delivered in a way so that the audience knows it’s a joke.”
Coppola specifically cast actors who could deliver comedic lines and who could do it well.
“It was very important that the actors were able to do physical comedy. There’s a lot of running around, jumping. You could have the best dramatic actors, but if they don’t have the right timing in comedy, it just isn’t there,” Coppola said.
As seen in the February 13, 2014 issue of the Hippo.