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'Five Course' is a happy meal

I sat down an hour ago to "Five Course Love," not realizing that each of the five courses would be cotton candy but willing to gobble it up nonetheless. I can barely remember what I just saw, but it made me giddy and cheerful - and maybe that's enough for these 90-degree days.

Gregg Coffin's jaunty, often witty songs run together in a melee of double entendres. Craig Spradley's direction yields sight gag after sight gag. Actors Jon Parker Douglas, Joe Klosek and Maret Seitz work themselves into a lather as bandit, nerd, moll and literally a dozen other people.

Some repeated jokes seemed thin the second time - I need a maximum of one man wearing bondage gear per play - but the audience at Actor's Theatre of Charlotte rolled with these telegraphed punches. This is the kind of show where the policy of allowing wine glasses in the theater seems especially shrewd: By Act 2, a woman across the aisle from me was gaily mimicking a German waiter's Nazi salute.

That Nazi waiter comes along in the third of five skits, each based on the same premise: Two people meet in a themed restaurant, overseen or interrupted by a waiter or chef, to begin or extend a relationship that seems unlikely to work out.

We begin in a steak house, where a wild-eyed filly decides a timid guy may be her stallion. We proceed to an Italian joint, where a mobster's wife dallies with a hit man, then to a German place where a guy in lederhosen is the least kinky occupant. The Mexican sequence has an oversexed robber and a humble guy as rivals for a señorita, and the longest (and least funny) segment sets a bobbysoxer mooning over a greaser who ignores her in an old diner.

The play seems like a time capsule in many ways. The German jokes might have come from "Hogan's Heroes" or "Cabaret," while the yee-hawin' filly would've been at home in "Urban Cowboy." The timid guy wishes he were Cary Grant or Steve McQueen. (Does anyone under 35 know who those people are?)

Except for the last episode, where the 1980s seem to collide with the 1950s, the emphasis is purely on zany laughs. The show holds one lovely number, "The Blue Flame," a ballad of fidelity sung sweetly by Klosek's lovelorn Mexican. Yet even here, Spradley keeps him ambling around the stage in search of the spotlight he richly deserves, so the sentiment isn't cloying.

The shamelessly hammy Douglas and hangdog Klosek play off each other adeptly. Seitz is a rare thing, a comedienne who can be wacky or sultry, and she bends herself into any shape - sometimes literally - that these two gentlemen require.

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