Midnight cowboy

I think I may have discovered the perfect formula for enjoying a popcorn-throwing spoof at the Pocket Sandwich Theatre -- mid-sized audience composed of a big chunk of theater people consuming moderate amounts of beer watching a script written by Dallas playwright Steve Lovett. Yes indeedy, all the stars were fortuitously aligned for my enjoyment of Lovett's Drac In the Saddle Again, his combination of TV Western and monster movie. And did I mention talented actors who didn't have to work too hard for audience response, so they could concentrate on one-liners and not on rescuing themselves from a sinking stage?

The playwright himself was present at the table in front of me along with other cast members from Theatre Three's current show The Boy Friend, where Lovett plays a drunken, lecherous Englishman. Those parts are something of a specialty for him, he confirmed during a restroom powwow at intermission. He also noted that Drac in the Saddle Again is one of his "golden oldies," as he's been an actor and playwright at the Pocket Sandwich since the venue opened in the early '80s.

Lovett declared that Drac in the Saddle Again was a hybrid of two very real genre-crossing films -- one in which Billy the Kid battled Count Dracula, and another in which Jesse James confronts the Bride of Frankenstein. There are no real historical figures present in Drac, just the virtuous, white-suited Guy With No Name (Daniel Morrow) and his virginal girlfriend Fanny (Jill Brown), who's not exactly the brightest candle in the wagon-wheel chandelier. Guy tries to save Fanny from Count Dracula (Donald McDonald), here disguised as the young woman's Uncle Norman; he's having a helluva time tracking down virgin blood in the Old West. Meanwhile, Consuela del Frankenstein (Alice Montgomery) and her mysterious Asian henchman Chop Chop (Ben Schroth) are attempting to manipulate dumb, hunky Black Bart (Hal Bickers) for their own nefarious ends -- as both a fellow evildoer and a love muffin for Consuela. The power lines of maternal yearning and white-hot lust get crossed, as do the fates of good and evil.

As directed and choreographed by Andi Allen, Drac in the Saddle Again achieves a sublime Benny Hill frenzy that the actors never let stampede into self-indulgent chaos. Once again, although Pocket Sandwich co-operators Rodney Dobbs and Joe Dickinson make no pretenses to art, a successful show there looks deceptively easy -- the amount of concentration and discipline it takes for the actor to keep him or herself, the character, and the audience in smooth juggling rhythm is the pace where burlesque almost catches up to art and certainly stays in a delicious trot with craft. The Drac cast was hot at this Sunday performance, with special nods going to Donald McDonald, who got off a good zinger at a table of kids who made him the target of a ceaseless barrage of heated kernels ("Children of the night, knock it off!"); Hal Bickers, a member of the comedy troupe Rubber Chicken making his Pocket Sandwich debut, whose face seems to be made of Silly Putty, so hilariously can he make an expression and keep it frozen there like a mask; and Jill Brown, who won my heart with the scene in which she attempts to load a pistol by cramming the silver bullet into the barrel and reciting one of the best dry-cool-action-hero-wit lines ever, spoken with breathy brainlessness: "Happy trails, sucker." Drac in the Saddle Again is the kind of show in which the fifth pun on Brown's character's name -- "Is that stone too cold for my sweet little Fanny?" -- is as funny as the fiftieth -- "I want your Fanny!" You laugh at yourself for laughing, which, when a show displays as much merry talent as this one, is the comic equivalent of a multiple orgasm.

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Jimmy Fowler