John Seibert, Suzi Regan, Grant R. Krause
and Sandra Birch in Sea of Fools
(© Danna Segrest)
John Seibert, Suzi Regan, Grant R. Krause
and Sandra Birch in Sea of Fools
(© Danna Segrest)
Have you ever noticed how, in plays of a certain type, the butler is the one who is reliably sane while everyone else around him is either losing their wits or never had any to lose? Matt Letschers's new play Sea of Fools, which is getting its world premiere at the Purple Rose Theatre in Chelsea, Michigan, has a wonderful butler, played with marvelous aplomb by Clyde Brown. In order of appearance, he is the first of many good things in this tremendously fun production.

Like all farce, Sea of Fools needs ferocious energy. Fortunately, Letscher, who also directs, and the Purple Rose cast know what they're doing and they do it to the hilt. Letscher's characters are as overblown, over-the-top, and over-full of themselves as possible, and they want the whole world to know how utterly magnificent each and every one of them is.

Sea of Fools, which is set in the McCarthy era, is about the Hollywood associates of a recently dead film director, the auteur of wondrous films usually shot over a long weekend in Bakersfield. They are hacks and hams with egos like hot-air balloons. These Hollywood types are being investigated by an FBI type named Mary Wayburn (played with ferocious silliness by Suzi Regan), who wants to feed every Red she can into the jaws of the House UnAmerican Activities Committee to spark her career. However, Mary is as big a fool in her own way as all the Hollywood eighth-raters are in theirs, and so nobody is ever in jeopardy.

The script is full of double and triple entendres that lead to non-entendre, such as "You say you had your typewriter in his basement for years and that's not code for some sort of queer sex?"

Somehow, the legendary director Elia Kazan also gets into the act, and while the play acknowledges that he named names to HUAC, he certainly didn't name them to Mary Wayburn. It also has a very funny sequence in which Kazan tries to explain modern acting theory to these hams who, much to their credit, cannot even begin to grasp what he is talking about.

That scene occurs just after they've tried to bowl Kazan over with their histrionic talents by acting out the death scene from their version of Hamlet, an ocean-going take on the play much like a performance of the same material by the Rude Mechanicals of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Indeed, Sea of Fools even has its own version of Bottom the Weaver in the character of Dicky Deerfield, played with delightful pomposity by Guy Sanville.

Sea of Fools is exactly the sort of play that a company like Purple Rose can do so well, and a weak company will do very badly. So catch it here; it will make you laugh as much as you possibly could imagine.