Devil's Due

If an episode of The Twilight Zone were spiced with a heaping helping of sexual innuendo and dashed with an exhaustively moral message, the result would look a lot like Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? Written in the 50s by George Axelrod, the story feels every bit like the campy satire of its time. Although Axelrod pokes fun at the Hollywood formula, his story also blatantly subscribes to it. While the characters joke about the shortcomings of filmmaking, they themselves are Tinseltown caricatures: the dumb blonde actress, the easily outraged producer, the perverse veteran, the jaded artist, and the wowed yokel. Complementing the two-dimensional personalities are the thin plot and over-the-top acting. Still, like the beautiful star at the heart of the action, the show is delightful to watch in spite of its vapid quality.

If there were a list of all the stereotypical requisites for being a loser, reporter George MaCauley (Morgan Sills) might check off each item: living with family through adulthood, inexperience with women, a squeaky voice, and, to top it all off, a tacky bowtie. When he's sent to interview sex symbol Rita Marlowe (Jennifer Danielle), the contrast between elite and geek accentuates his shortcomings. What's a man to do to improve himself? Make a deal with the devil, of course!

Lucky (or unlucky, as it turns out) for George, Rita's agent, Irving LaSalle (Tuck Milligan), just happens to hail from Hell. Not the devil himself, he explains that he "merely works in the literary department" down there. Irving offers George a tempting deal: exchanging wishes for pieces of his soul.

Milligan takes a little while to settle into his role, but when he does, he revels in the deliciously evil dialogue. Finishing every line by rising in pitch and suggestively trailing off, his Irving is equal parts master manipulator and English gentleman. The sneering-yet-suave tempter act has been done many times before, but Milligan seems to be having such fun camping it up that you can't resist enjoying every time he pops onstage to torment George.

Compared with Irving's smooth certainty, George is a bumbling bundle of nerves with an expression that suggests he's forever on the cusp of exclaiming "gee-golly!" Even though George receives his initial wishes for love, success, and charm, he still lapses into his old self. While his schoolboy shtick gets a little irritating, Sills shifts from doofus to debonair in a way that's natural and funny. His portrayal manages to be both a tribute to and a parody of the lovable loser of classic films.

The plot itself is rooted in movie-making. Rita is planning to star in a film adaptation of a successful play by a rising-star writer, Michael Freeman (Eric Rubbe). Michael, a love interest of Rita's, also intends to pen the screenplay. But with no writing talent (his only article was a profile of one Rock Hunter), George uses two of his wishes to usurp poor Michael both romantically and professionally.

Oddly, George's wishes grow more selfless as his soul-shedding continues. He even forges a friendship with Michael that ends with unexplainable sacrifices by each of them at the play's conclusion. After more than an hour of amusingly evil buildup, the solution to everyone's problems comes quickly and gets such a breezed-over explanation that it's reminiscent of a Scooby-Doo denouement.

Such a simple remedy would be easier to swallow if it were presented more as an ironic mockery of the cheesy Hollywood ending than a simple mimicry of it. The bland wrap-up seems out of place because the rest of the play laughs at itself more obviously.

Thanks to director Holly-Anne Ruggiero's dance-like blocking and snappy pace, the first two acts are good, fluffy fun. The production's brisk speed does the script's dirty jokes and one-liners justice, as the ensemble delivers each zinger with bite. One standout quip: when George complains to Irving that he doesn't have the talent to achieve his dreams, his agent sneers, "I'm not talking about talent, I'm talking about success."

In this production, the color of success is gold. In contrast to the dominance of white in Act One, set designer Anne Allen Goelz tellingly blankets the stage in gold for the scenes following George and Irving's arrangement (a Fall-like loss of innocence). As everything from garbage bins to clipboards to Rita herself takes on a gaudy metallic shimmer, this overwhelming abundance of "success" starts to seem as tacky as George's bowtie.

Of course, George learns that there's more to life than a gold-plated pencil collection and tries to right the wrongs he's committed on his path to the top. Unfortunately, the play's simply not as fun when it preaches. While the characters might realize you don't need a demon to write a good story, he sure helps this one.

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