Door slams, actor dives under bed!

Expatriate British playwright Michael Parker gives the people what they want—and what they want are more bedroom farces

Michael Parker, wondering what alliterative goes best with “Condit.”

Michael Parker, wondering what alliterative goes best with “Condit.”

Michael Parker—actor, playwright and all-around colorful personality—is enjoying what you might call a storybook life, the current chapter of which finds him at the Woodland Opera House, where he’s starring in his own new play, Who’s In Bed With the Butler?

It’s a bedroom farce—Parker’s seventh. And after the Woodland production wraps up, he’ll be making a few revisions and sending the play on to Samuel French, the highly influential publishing company, founded in 1830, which handles plays by everyone from Neil Simon to George Bernard Shaw and—oh yes—six other plays by Michael Parker. (Hundreds of aspiring playwrights dream of placing a script with French, much less seven.)

Parker’s story goes back to England, where he came of age in the years following World War II, touring as a teenager with the National Shakespearean Youth Academy. He then attended the Royal Military Academy, served five years with the British Army, and then immigrated to Canada, where he set up an office-temp business.

Parker did so well as a businessman that he was able to sell his company and retire to the Caribbean at midlife. He established residence in the Turks and Caicos Islands, a tiny British overseas territory on the southern end of the Bahamas. “Very few people know where it is,” Parker says. “It’s around 600 miles southeast of Miami. The locals have the eminent good sense to want to remain a British colony. It has the world’s perfect climate. It’s also a tax haven. And the official currency is the U.S. dollar. There are many, many reasons for being a resident of the Turks and Caicos Islands.”

So, during the 1980s, with some money in the bank and some time on his hands, Parker turned to travel, and also got back into his early love—the theater.

His breakthrough as a playwright came in the late 1980s, when he was working with a community theater in Delray Beach, Florida. “I suggested to the artistic director there that he do some British farces. And I gave him some to read, and asked him, ‘Are you going to do these?’ And he said, ‘Good God, no!’ And I said,'Why not?’ And he said, ‘They’re too British. They don’t translate well into American. They’re all about the British educational system, or the royal family, or scandals that Americans are not familiar with.’

“And then he said, ‘Look, you had all your early theatrical experience in Britain, and you’ve lived on this side of the Atlantic for a lot of years. Why don’t you write an American bedroom farce?’ And it occurred to me that no one had done it.

“So all I did was take the concept of the traditional British bedroom farce—the naughty-but-nice concept so popular in London during the 1960s and 1970s, and still to this day—and I simply put it into an American setting.”

Parker’s first play was The Sensuous Senator, written around 1988—the time of the Gary Hart scandal. At the time, Hart was a Colorado senator, and the leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. However, all that changed when reporters discovered that Hart had been cruising the waters off Florida with a woman half his age on a yacht named “Monkey Business.”

The play proved popular with audiences, so Parker wrote a sequel, The Amorous Ambassador, which came out around the time that then-Vice President Dan Quayle ignited a brouhaha over his remarks about the morality of the TV sitcom Murphy Brown.

American politicians have kept Parker well stocked with material ever since, and a string of plays have followed, with titles like Hotbed Hotel, There’s a Burglar in My Bed and Whose Wives Are They, Anyway?

And they’re all bedroom farces—the sort of comedies that rely on a fairly well-defined formula in which doors slam, coincidences stack up faster than those little blue plates at a sushi bar during lunch hour, plans for hot-blooded romantic interludes go terribly awry, and scantily clad lovers hide in closets or under beds when jealous spouses turn up unexpectedly at the door.

Parker is probably in no great danger of carrying off the Pulitzer Prize for drama. But never mind; Parker not only has the field’s major publisher handling his work, his plays are also being done—a lot—by community groups all over the map.

“I’m probably going to have about 40 productions of my plays this year,” Parker says, “which means that about every 10 days or so, one of my plays opens somewhere in this country. I have found this little niche in American theater all to myself. Which is tremendous fun.”

But—despite the ample opportunity afforded by Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky—Parker has never written a comedy with the obvious title The Promiscuous President.”

“A lot of people have suggested that,” he admits. “But I honestly hesitate, because I think while it’s OK to poke fun at a man, I’m not sure it’s OK to poke fun at the office. So I tread a little warily on that ground.”

Parker believes that the cultural climate has changed since he wrote his first bedroom farce in 1988. “Well, my first play was about the Gary Hart scandal—and he was finished as a politician 24 hours after that story broke, never to be heard from again.

“That doesn’t happen today. So even compared to 12 or 13 years ago, there is a whole different morality in this country.”

Parker’s current comedy, Who’s In Bed With The Butler, is set against the background of the Napa Valley wine country. Parker spends a fair amount of time and money at Napa wineries when he’s in this part of the world, checking out $50 bottles of wine. “There are a lot of $20 values that you can buy for $50 a bottle nowadays,” he warns.

In addition to his official residence in the Turks and Caicos Islands, Parker keeps a home in Texas (the setting for another comedy, The Lone Star Potion). But because his plays are being done in many different places, and Parker often lends a hand as director or actor, he’s often on the road. “I’m a nomad, and I guess my east Texas accent doesn’t fool anybody,” he admits. “Theater has now become a full-time, all-consuming passion.”

Parker is already thinking about his next script. “I’ve started on another one already; it’s in the very preliminary stages. And it may surprise a lot of people. I’m writing it at the request of literally dozens and dozens of artistic directors at theaters all over the country, all of whom have said the same thing to me: ‘Why don’t you write a Christmas farce? We are fed up with doing the same old shows every year at Christmas—we’re limited to five or six scripts, and we’ve done them 25 times. Please write us a Christmas farce.’ ”

(Parker probably doesn’t know it, but Buck Busfield of Sacramento’s B Street Theatre has heard the same call. Busfield has written several original Christmas comedies in recent years. In addition, Sacramento composer Gregg Coffin had a hand in yet another original Christmas comedy—Cinderella, which originated with the Shakespeare Santa Cruz festival two years ago, was presented in Santa Cruz and at the Sacramento Theatre Company last year, and will be returning to Sacramento in December. Indeed, holiday comedies would seem to be something of a growth industry.)

Parker realizes that a Christmas farce will be a horse of a different color as compared with his bedroom comedies to date. “It’ll be a couple of years before I finish, and it’ll be difficult for me, because it’s going to be for kids. It’s going to have a lot of visual stuff in it. And I’ll have to take out all the scantily clad ladies and adulterous situations. But I think we’re going to have fun with that one, when I eventually get it done. And I’m determined that it’s going to be the next one I write.”