It's 1941, and songwriting brothers Jimmy and Bobby have landed in Hollywood on a do-or-die mission: Write a hit song for dictatorial studio head Merwin M. Garner's latest movie. Oh, and do it by this afternoon, or else.
If it sounds vaguely familiar, it should. Writers Bob and Jim Walton have crammed their small musical tour-de-farce "Double Trouble" with an actor's trunk-full of tropes from Hollywood's Golden Age.
In the production of "Double Trouble" that opened Friday night at Oregon Cabaret Theatre, the familiarity of the material acts as a sort of shorthand that frees up the audience to sit back and take in the comic song and dance of John Keating and Galen Schloming, who play the brothers, and on trying to keep track of the amusing mechanics of a two-man show with 11 characters.
A tune called "Just the Two of Us" sets the scene. The brothers are in this together. They can hardly believe their luck. And they are naive. Not hicks from the sticks, exactly (they've worked on Broadway), but fish out of water in the shark tank that is Hollywood.
What plot there is revolves around the boys' dealings with the series of bizarre characters they meet as they hole up in the studio's writers' cottage trying to compose a song called "Gotcha." There's improbably old, narcoleptic sound engineer Bix Minky, nerdy intern Seymour Beckley, sexy starlet Rebecca Lefleurdelemaganis, and many others.
To say the humor is broad is like saying the Grand Canyon is a big ditch. "Your face looks a little pail," Bobby says to fast-talking agent Swifty Morris as he staggers out of a broom closet with a bucket on his head.
"Are you British?" Bobby asks flamboyant director Preston Creest. "No," Creest answers in that upper-crusty accent favored by many 1930s movie stars, "Just affected."
When femme fatale Lefleurdelemaganis (Keating in drag) seductively tells Bobby she wants to be a big star with her chest crushed against his face, he blurts, "You're already pretty big."
And so on. Many of the jokes refer to the plot's requirement that the boys make innumerable quick changes and, though they are never seen together, sometimes seem almost to bump into each other or one of their alternate characters as they pull off yet another lightning turnaround between exit and entrance.
"It's like I'm talking to myself in here," Jimmy says from the sound booth, where he's closeted with a dummy Bix.
"I'm not the same woman I was 10 minutes ago," Rebecca tells Jimmy (because the boys take turns playing Rebecca to each other, get it?).
Seymour says of Bobby, "We're so much alike, sometimes I think I'm him."
Quick-change shows sometimes rely on one-sided costumes that can be slapped on actors in front and simply stuck together with Velcro in the back. Not here. As Keating and Schloming dance and spin, the audience sees the back of the costumes: real duds. And Kerri Lea Robbins' eye-popping costumes catch and add to the giddy spirit of the play.
The Waltons gleefully pile up the absurdities. Under pressure from tyrannical mogul Garner, who is always firing somebody (think Jack Warner, who fired actors from Douglas Fairbanks Jr. to Rin Tin Tin), Seymour learns to play piano (sort of) from a book in a few seconds.
Characters keep confusing the likes of agoraphobia with narcolepsy with kleptomania. The impressions in a lightning series don't have to be actually good to be recognizable (Groucho, Cagney, George Burns, Mae West, Johnny Weissmuller, Bogart).
Director Jim Giancarlo keeps "Double Trouble" moving at a mile-a-minute pace (if it didn't, it would be flat). Some of the schtick works better than others, but the talented, young Chicago-based actors sing rollicking harmonies to music director Sarah Wussow's piano and dance like demons (tap and other '40s styles, think Gene Kelly) to Giancarlo's choreography.
Speaking of demons, dressers Stephanie Jones and Maureen Vaughey had to be the busiest people around.
"I'd like to see backstage," a woman said.
"No, you wouldn't," said an OCT staffer.
A musical farce like "Double Trouble" is to a straight play as a bar menu is to the dinner menu. It's fun and easy to get yourself around and quickly digested. If you're hungry for light fare, this one will fill the bill.
Bill Varble writes about arts and entertainment for the Mail Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.