Idris Seabright’s cottage looks idyllic. Pink paint and potted palms give her living room just the right tropical breeziness. A portrait of flinty, bearded Captain Horace Seabright hangs over her tasteful mantel, honoring the family patriarch who settled in the islands “before he went down on the Dancing Queen.” And Idris herself (Everett Quinton) is a picture of composure — primly dressed in 1950s fashions, strong-willed, and perhaps a little eccentric in her advanced age.
But all is not sunny in the Florida Keys. Idris’s life is careening out of control. It’s 1952 and her frustrated, plain young ward, Vivien (Jason Edward Cook), has one eye on the matron’s cash stash and the other on a future modern-art career in Greenwich Village. For comfort the old biddy relies on her neighbor (and attorney), Phineas Fenn (Michael Keyloun), a pleasant fellow who handles her investments and arranges her pharmaceutical prescriptions. When Ricardo (Jason Cruz), the smoldering son of Idris’s old flame, appears out of nowhere — well, actually from nearby Cuba — the three become fierce rivals for Mrs. Seabright’s estate, professing their love all the while.
With wigs and winks, Drop Dead Perfect pays homage to pulp fiction and B-movies. Intruders hide in shadows; disclosures about the past emerge; desire mixes with grand larceny; revolvers come out. Drop Dead Perfect celebrates its sources with low-key affection more than it sends them up. Indeed, authorship and originality are nebulous affairs here; the playwright, “Erasmus Fenn,” uncannily shares a surname with both Phineas and the narrator, who alludes cryptically to his father’s thwarted dreams of becoming “a stage magician.”
It’s probably better not to look behind the bougainvillea. After all, with its pseudonymous revisions of pop forms and its cross-dressed star, Drop Dead Perfect pays loyal tribute to the glorious traditions of Charles Ludlam’s Ridiculous Theatrical Company. That troupe, founded in 1967, shelled famous plays and movies for decades, reanimating them with queerness, drag personas, and double entendres that made many a tiara spin. (Quinton, our evening’s prepossessing star, appeared in 75 Ridiculous shows and still manages to carry the torch in heels.)
A note in the script helpfully recommends, “Playful abandon is what is important within the framework of a B-grade TV melodrama.” Drop Dead Perfect gets frisky but never outrageous. Like Idris, this staid but high-spirited show (directed by Joe Brancato) never entirely lets its hair down. Partly that’s because, having established motives, the plot treads water for a long spell before it winds to a conclusion. The zingers don’t come frequently or fast enough to give this comic caper a truly madcap feel.
Well-placed anatomical sight gags? Check. Tasteless jokes about Cuban lawn boys? Sí. And then there’s the caterpillar poison Ricardo buys for the garden, a threat that looms hilariously in the second half. (“Don’t worry. I’ll put it on the top shelf of the cupboard…so you won’t use it by mistake to make piecrust!”) Ultimately, though, the surprisingly genteel script doesn’t have much raunch, which might make it more, well, Ridiculous.
Ricardo makes his steamy seductions with a bit of Cuban conga, drawing the others into thrusting duets and releasing their inner fierceness. Drop Dead Perfect could use more of Ricardo’s rev, but it’s hard to complain about a comedy that’s as light as a mojito and as sweet as a fresh slice of Key lime pie.