Getting the Kinks In

by MICHAEL BOWEN & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & "A & lt;/span & re we doing the spanking?"

"No, let's try the handcuffs."

Conversations at a rehearsal for a sex farce can raise more than just your eyebrows.

Oh, stop. What I meant was: Talking with actors like Kathie Doyle-Lipe and Troy Nickerson can raise expectations for just how funny Tour de Farce will be (through Oct. 12 at CenterStage).

First there's the basic irony of the plot: Herb Gladney has just written a bestselling manual, Marriage Is Forever. He's on a book tour with his wife Rebecca. Theoretically, theirs should be an ideal marriage. Theoretically.

Compounding the chaos are the 10 characters that the two actors will portray. Nickerson plays Herb, Bill the bellhop, Senator Grant Ryan, the senator's wife Delilah and Gunnar the angst-ridden cameraman. Doyle-Lipe plays Rebecca, Nina the hotel maid, Sister Barbara, Pam the TV reporter, and Gwenda, the senator's floozy.

Both actors have two dozen costume changes -- that's just in the first act -- and each is assigned two dressers to help with quick changes. Along with the stage manager, there's potential for seven bodies scurrying around in CenterStage's cramped, four-foot-wide backstage space. Sounds as if there will be as much action backstage as there will be in front of the house.

Sometimes when he comes offstage, says Nickerson, things are moving so fast "that I don't know what character I am next. I just look for the dressers" -- who plant themselves next to whichever door he's supposed to emerge from next -- "and I get zipped up into my costume, and I look down at what I'm wearing, and then I know who I'm supposed to be."

At the end of each performance, the plan is for the backstage crew to emerge from their dark, narrow cave of wigs and clothing racks to take some well-deserved bows -- "sort of like all the clowns getting out of the car," Nickerson jokes.

Popping in and out of 10 costumes is sweaty, exhausting work.

Doyle-Lipe puckers up and spoofs herself: "I'm hot and sweaty, baby -- now, kiss me!"

Then Nickerson mutters, "With the kissing and the spitting and the sweat ... my God, it's like we need body condoms out there."

Doyle-Lipe is laughing so hard, she nearly chokes on some of her pre-rehearsal pasta. Then she grows somber. "There's nothing more painful ... if [audiences] don't laugh at this [show], then you are the biggest ass," she says. "If they don't laugh at this one, we're gonna have to leave town."

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & N & lt;/span & ickerson's obviously reveling in the opportunity to play not just the gray-haired Southern-gentleman senator but also the senator's mistress.

"Wanna see my pumps?" he asks. He's holding up a pair of gray heels, size humongous. "I got them at PayLess Cross-Dress for Less." (Costumer Dee Finan really did manage to locate a pair of pumps in size 14. On sale.)

"Every second, there's something. It's just so crazy," says Nickerson.

Doyle-Lipe looks dazed. "There have been moments in rehearsal," she says, "when I come offstage and I don't know who I am."

The setting is a hotel room with four doors and one very prominent bed. Nickerson actually has one costume change underneath the bed -- rolling under it as one character and emerging as yet another. The bed -- already raked at about 40 degrees to help the audience see all the antics -- was raised a couple of feet above the stage floor so that Nickerson (who shops in the Big & amp; Tall section) could fit underneath.

"Well, they overcompensated," says Doyle-Lipe, laughing. (She's 5 feet tall, but only when she wears Troy's pumps.) "By the time they were finished, I could barely see over the bed."

The bed's getting fixed before opening night.

What's already working well is some of the fast-paced action. Nickerson describes watching part of a recent rehearsal: "At one point, Kathie leaves as one character and has literally one line to come on, deliver a line, and then get off and shut the door behind her. It's when Gwenda's fighting in the bathroom. And you can't fill that -- you've got to get it right. And I'm watching Kathie get pulled back and forth by the dressers, and I'm thinking, 'That's amazing. That's remarkable. How do they do that?'"

If it's a treat for Troy, it'll be a treat for the rest of us too. Aside from a couple of local fund-raisers, Doyle-Lipe and Nickerson have appeared onstage together as performers only a few times, including Once Upon a Mattress and Kiss Me, Kate at the Civic. And Guys and Dolls.

While playing the senator and his floozy, it'll be once upon the mattress again -- and it turns out that Nickerson and Doyle-Lipe, close friends, are a little squeamish about doing the fornicators' make-out scenes.

Now, the whips and handcuffs, they have no problem with that.

Enjoy all the door-slamming in Tour de Farce, along with such buffet items as Home Wrecker's Mixed Greens, on Thursdays-Saturdays, Sept. 13-15, Sept. 20-21, Sept. 27, Sept. 29, Oct. 4-5 and Oct. 11-12, with dinner at 6:45 pm and show at 8 pm; and with a Sunday matinee on Oct. 7, with meal at 1:45 pm and show at 3 pm. Tickets: $43; $22, show only. CenterStage, 1017 W. First Ave. Visit or call 74-STAGE.

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