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Madcap scientist Erwin Schroedinger is full of outrageous lines in “Improbable Frequency,” a play ending its run this weekend.
“Philomena, I treasure your behind,” he says at one point. ”You find the right position, I’ll give it some velocity!”
Schroedinger, his eyes dancing with lunatic schemes and lewd and lascivious leers, is a comic facsimile of the real Nobel Laureate theoretical physicist, but here portrayed by gay actor Cyle Durkee as a standout delight in the Irish-import musical comedy and knockabout word-play farce “Improbable Frequency.”
The play is Marx Brothers meets Maxwell Smart — what D.C. native Durkee, 31, calls “a campy blend of film noir, World War II romance and old science fiction B movies,” brought to the stage by Solas Nua (Gaelic for “New Light”). See this contrived comic confection, a pulpy pastiche of spy thriller and sweet romance set to blank verse and music-hall tunes, before it closes on Oct 24.
Yes, it is too long — by half, and too clever — but see it anyway, if your sense of humor includes crossword-style code-breaking and mile-a-minute, high-brow verbal derring-do.
Several performers steal the show, including Durkee, shambling in a dirty lab coat, his hair wildly tossed, his fingers twisting and curling; and Stacey Johnson with first-rate singing voice and stunning good looks, picture-book perfect and pert blonde, as Philomena O’Shea. She will be on tour soon in “The Wizard of Oz” and is also a Synetic Theater regular, seen most recently in “Anthony and Cleopatra” and “Dracula.”
Durkee lives in Takoma Park and is leading what he calls the “cliché life of the actor, waiting tables” at Ted’s Bulletin, a restaurant in Eastern Market on Capitol Hill. “But I’m trying to become a professional actor,” he says, “going on auditions” and also appearing now, at the Comedy Spot in Ballston Mall (Arlington), each Monday at 8 p.m. (Oct. 18, 25 and Nov. 1) in “Captain Freedom,” a superhero rock opera that’s part of the second season of the Hope Operas.
Durkee has the acting chops to make it big and utterly inhabits the mad-scientist trope and bawdy whimsy of “Improbable Frequency” and its mix of spies and physics and Gaelic. He carries the role with smutty charm right over the top, especially when his breakaway trouser rear drops away and he wriggles bare-assed opposite Philomena.
Dublin playwright Arthur Riordan, a founding member of the Rough Magic Theatre Company, which first produced this show in 2004 as part of the Dublin Fringe Festival, concocted this fitfully funny book of dazzling rhymed script and lyrics, with a jaunty music-hall score by so-called “Bell Helicopter” — the duo of Conor Kelly and Sam Park.
The odd man out in all the silliness is probably the toughest role to bring off, straight man Tristram Faraday, played by Eric Messner as the perfect English tweedy gentleman. Faraday, a “cruciverbalist,” or crossword-puzzle adept, has been recruited by MI5 for his decoding skills, to go to Dublin and join Betjeman to uncover a plot by pro-Nazis to send messages to the German bombers.
Deciphering the “improbable frequency,” a series of strange radio broadcasts with song titles appearing to forecast weather conditions in Britain, is Faraday’s challenge, and so he suddenly appears in a Dublin bar known to be a hotbed for German sympathizers.
This is the first musical for Solas Nua, known mainly for its dramas of gritty naturalism, and it is a signature success for director Matt Torney and for award-winning choreographer Diane Coburn, recently moved to D.C. from New York City, and the troupe’s artistic director, D.C. resident but Dublin-born Linda Murray.