Scena Theatre ends its inaugural three-play repertory on a breathless note with "Tropical Madness," a satirical romp by Polish playwright Stanislaus Ignacy Witkiewicz. Directed with a generous splash of slapstick and camp by Robert McNamara, and featuring the way-over-the-top performances of Michael Judge and Kerry Waters, "Madness" plays, hilariously, like a distillation of every badly dubbed late-late-late movie you've ever seen.
Witkiewicz places a handful of hapless, repressed Polish tourists on the rococo veranda of the Hotel Malabar in humid Rangoon, where they sip rainbow cocktails, behave monstrously toward the natives and eavesdrop and interfere as adventurer Sydney Price falls instantly in love with femme fatale Elinor Golders, supremely bored wife of corrupt rubber magnate Richard Golders. The husband is perversely indulgent about the affair -- he's using his jaded wife as bait to entrap Price into working for him, and the histrionic romance has comically tragic consequences.
"Madness" races riotously along on the acting of Judge and Waters, who invest this silliness with everything they've got. Waters, in a sustained comic performance as the deadly, deadpan Elinor, makes you think of Garbo, Dietrich, Swanson, Hepburn -- and Burnett and Rivers. As Price, Judge again proves himself one of the most vigorous, inventive actors in town, displaying a touch of Robin Williams' quicksilver wit and a ferocious physicality. The two wring every delirious drop from some of the most preposterously purple lines ever handed to an actor.
The onstage temperature drops markedly whenever these two are offstage. Brian Hemmingsen makes a slick, smirking Golders, Jewell Robinson amuses in her brief appearance as a dragon lady done wrong and Chris Henley sputters frenetically as a Polish youth intoxicated by the decadence of the tropics, but the other performers miss the play's parodic tone.
McNamara's comic effects are helped in no small measure by David Crandall's hyper "sound track." But whatever political subtext exists in Witkiewicz's play, which is meant to be a satire of exploitative colonialism, is all but eclipsed by the melodramatic romance between Elinor and Sydney. And that, sadly, expires long before Witkiewicz is finished. Apropos of the play's "Late Show" mood, "Tropical Madness" is performed at 11:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, with a 3 p.m. Sunday matinee.
Tropical Madness, by Stanislaus Ignacy Witkiewicz. Directed by Robert McNamara; sets, Jim Chaconas; lighting, John McCarthy; sound, David Crandall; costumes, Zoe Stofflet. With Daniel C. Awkward, Reginald Cabico, Emily Chamberlain, Brian Desmond, Brian Hemmingsen, Christopher Henley, Michael Judge, Jennifer Mendenhall, Jewell Robinson, Matt Walker, Kerry Waters. At Source Theatre Main Stage through Feb. 21.