In The Senator Wore Pantyhose, the senator in question is not Kirsten Gillibrand, whose real pantyhose would hardly be worth noting let alone be made the subject of rollicking and loose-limbed farce. No, this senator is a guy, hapless, hangdog Gabey Sandalson (Bryan Allen Jones) of Pennsylvania, whose desperation to reach higher office makes him Play-Doh in the hands of his manipulative manager Tom Gordon (Sam Tamburo). Tom is a font of ideas, all of them cockamamie. The current one has the senator spending the weekend at the ancient, run-down Sluckup Inn in rural Sluckup County, a name that relates to puns the way banana peels do to pratfalls. Not only does Tom have the senator’s hairy legs in pantyhose, before the second act is done he has the legislator in a black brassiere as well.
Welcome to the world of Billy Van Zandt and Jane Milmore, the king and queen of New Jersey dinner theater (that’s why they’re sneering at Pennsylvania). The duo can dash off a new comedy about once a month, and about 10 of their items have found friendly audiences in Central New York, despite our deeper well of sophistication and good taste. They include Onondaga Hillplayers’ hit of a year ago, Love, Sex and the I.R.S., the Talent Company’s Hitchcock spoof Wrong Window (April 2011) and the push-the-envelope naughty You’ve Got Hate Mail (February 2011), directed by Dustin Czarny. Onondaga Hillplayers, under producers Doris and Jack Skillman, have always favored good clean fun, and Pantyhouse is still G-rated. Cross-dressing jokes are not enough to push it to PG-13.
This last year has been a hard one for the company, however, as co-producer Doris, still full of fun at 88, left us in March, and Jack, a fast-moving widower in a walker, has taken on the full burden himself. While cynics may charge that community theater is often an institution run on vanity, Hillplayers has been a family-dominated venture since 1959, and a roseate let’s-do-this-for-Doris sentiment suffuses the entire production. Maybe veteran director Robert “Tank” Steingraber could have been a little harsher on supporting players who are wobbly with the lines, but the warm glow of forgiveness so evident on the stage flows out into the audience.
Steingraber, offstage the author of clear-headed incisive letters to the editor, sees Pantyhose as a timely commentary on the current election, one that red-state and blue-state people can accept. There’s just too much huckstering and trivia in political campaigning. “Honest Gabey Sandalson” wants the endorsement of a lecherous televangelist, Rev. Jimmy Takker (Bernie Kaplan), and his blonde-wigged, overly made-up consort Tammy May Takker (Karen Alexander), who together fleece the gullible faithful though a scam known as the PMS Club. Nodding heads in the audience remember the federally indicted PTL Club, but PMS stands for, we learn, the People’s Ministry Society.
VanZandt and Milmore do without the slamming doors of master farceur Georges Feydeau, and they also load up the small stage with more characters than we can keep track of. Most ubiquitous is the smarmy, self-serving innkeeper and factotum Chancey Quince (Matt Fehlman), who never misses a chance to market his questionable antiques. Escaped convict Paddy McMutton (Daryl Acevedo) is also convinced to put on a blond wig and go in drag by the Sheldon Leonard-ish gangster Tony Pinelli (Michael Fernandez) in a black fedora. Self-important television journalist Dawn Blather (Judy Kishtok) comes to expose all the shenanigans and runs into Honest Gabey’s sweet but clueless wife Susan (Colleen O’Brien).
Wandering through the action is wayward girl Nellie (Mary Kate Migdal), always carrying a baby in swaddling clothes and unaccountably speaking with a Nashville accent. Migdal’s been on the scene for two decades in all kinds of roles, but has recently been working out a lot in the gym. Showing considerable expanses of taut, tanned skin, she is asked her age and answers, plausibly, “Seventeen.”
Coming but once a year, Jack Skillman’s Onondaga Hillplayers provide the last dinner theater around at the Links at Sunset Ridge in Marcellus. With $76 buying a dinner and show for two, it also makes a formidable best buy.
This production runs through Sunday, Nov. 4. See Times Table for information.