Stage Coach Theatre charges into its 25th season with an unusual comedy that takes a devilish look at the advertising business. Hell to Pay, starring Rick Lopez, Becky Jaynes and Melvin Spelvin, offers a new twist on the old "sell your soul" theme.
Director Kevin Kimsey, who also designed and built the attractive office set, keeps the action crisp and funny as the modern-day take on the Faustian plot unfolds. Spelvin plays Danny Laws, a hot shot advertising executive who is on the verge of losing his biggest account because he is unable to sign Robert Duvall up for an idiotic commercial. Laws seems a bit hard hearted and is all business, but he has convinced himself that his work helps people. His desperation grows as the client sets a deadline. Laws envisions heading for the unemployment line. It is midnight in New York. Then Laws utters the fateful offer about selling his soul for business success.
It may be either a dream or a nightmare when the cleaning man, Malvado, (Lopez) claims to be from Hell, and offers Laws a reprieve-but at a price. Here is where the story takes off into the modern stratosphere. Lopez is an elegant, polite devil who needs glasses. He oozes with charm too sweet and sincere to be evil. Who could be frightened by such a simple, honest guy? Lopez is appropriately overwhelmed when Laws expresses outrage at the devil's shoddy contract with typographical errors, Malvado's outdated recruitment techniques and the stale, old-fashioned image of Hell.
Spelvin is at his energetic best as he persuades Malvado (and his boss, the big guy) to consider a massive ad campaign to "sell" Hell to the public. Their speaker phone conferences are hilarious, and Jaynes adds to the fun as the ambitious ad assistant, Lisa, who wants to steal this new client. Jaynes is sexy as she romances her boss and then turns the charm on Malvado, with no idea who the client really is.
Although Hell to Pay is basically a one-joke show, a bit of modern philosophy sneaks in, as Laws says, "No one knows what the rules are anymore." Is there a Heaven? A Hell? Or is it all an illusion? Director Kimsey keeps the action moving so fast that you don't have a chance to really think about it. He almost convinces you that Hell is just like a "hip retirement village in Arizona."
The special effects give sparkle to the hellish atmosphere, and while they were a bit slow opening night, they will probably get slicker as the play's run continues. The voices from the nether regions and the sales campaign pitch are provided by George Wesley and Arthur Radley, with smooth and authoritative expertise.
No need to sell your soul for an entertaining and spirited evening with lots of laughs. Just buy a ticket. But don't make any rash statements to strangers.
Hell to Pay, Stage Coach Theatre, 7:30 p.m. Thursdays; 8:15 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through Sept. 10, 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 4, tickets $10-$12.