BWW Reviews: LENDER IS THE NIGHT is an Adaptation in Name Only, but That's Just Fine
Last Act Theatre Company's current offering, an original family-friendly comedy titled Lender is the Night, carries with it a wordy sub-title: "An Utterly Unrecognizable Adaptation of the Count of Monte Cristo: A Western Melodrama." The play has more than its share of entertaining moments, but the title and its relationship with the play itself is a bit problematic.
The problem is that Lender is the Night has more in common with a Monte Cristo sandwich than it does with the Count of. It's hammy and cheesy, like any good Monte Cristo and any good parody should be, but playwright Greg Klein deviates so far from the classic story that his play in no way resembles the source material.
Lender is the Night plays as a family-friendly Mel Brooks parody (You never thought you'd see "family friendly" and "Mel Brooks" together? Yeah, me neither) of a Western Melodrama. The handsome and heroic (or so he says) Dalton Divine rides into town with his trusty sidekick and must save the town from being blown to smithereens by the dastardly, handlebar mustache-twirling Baron.
While Klein's script stays true to the typical Western melodrama plot and is full of clever quips-my favorite being the Baron's entrance line of, "You can tell I'm the villain because I cheat at solitaire"-all major plot points from The Count of Monte Cristo are nowhere to be found, making this a truly unrecognizable adaptation indeed. There's no false imprisonment of the hero, no prison break, no uncovering of hidden treasure, no assumed identity, and no revenge. Whether or not Klein started with an adaptation of Monte Cristo or not, it's the audience only sees the end result, and the end result needs a different title in order to give the audience appropriate expectations.
But aside from calling his work an adaptation when it's not, Klein's managed to craft a script that is light, fun, and revels in getting the audience to laugh at silly puns and anachronisms. It drags occasionally and has more than a few scenes that could be combined in order to keep up the momentum and energy of the show (a 2 hour show does not need 30+ scenes, and 30+ scene changes eat up a lot of time), but overall it's a valiant effort.
As is the case with most parodies, it takes a talented cast to sell the ridiculousness of the story, the characters, and the dialogue, and the cast of Lender is the Night does it easily. Jack Fogarty channels Dudley Do-Right as the handsome but dim-witted Dalton Divine, and Mario Silva is wonderful as Dalton's smarter but often overlooked sidekick, Dingleberry Finn (a name that gets laughs from the 20-30 age bracket but goes over the heads of the kids). Chelsea Beth Hockaday proves to be a strong comedic heroine as the Mayor's daughter, Polly, and her response to being tied to the railroad tracks is one of the best moments of the second act. But it's Andrew Brett as the evil Baron who steals the show. Brett puts his tall, thin frame to good use as the Baron. Honestly, just putting him in a suit, cape, top hat, and mustache makes him look diabolical. But it's his Vincent Price line delivery and sinister smirk that makes him truly evil. It's clear that Brett enjoys being the villain, and he's the tent pole of the show.
Running Time: 2 hours, including one 15 minute intermission.
LENDER IS THE NIGHT, produced by Last Act Theatre Company plays at Lingo Studio (1701 W. Ben White Blvd, Ste 115, Austin 78704) now thru July 26th. Performances are Thursday - Saturday at 8pm. Tickets are $12 adults, $10 students, $8 kids 8-12, and free for kids 7 and under.
For tickets and information, please visit www.lastacttheater.com