Playwright Jamie Morris has a talent for taking beloved television sitcoms and campy classic movies and turning them into silly, gender-bending spoofs.
In recent years, audiences have packed Empire Stage in Fort Lauderdale for his twisted takes on “Silence of the Lambs” (“Silence of the Clams”), “Mommie Dearest” (“Mommie Queerest”) and “The Facts of Life: The Lost Episode,” among others.
This weekend, his latest parody, “Gilligan’s Fire Island,” will receive its Southeastern premiere at the tiny theater.
“Half the work is already done because of the iconic characters,” explained Morris, who is generally attracted to shows that “strike a chord in pop culture. Even if you didn’t grow up in the ‘60s and ‘70s, you know the castaways.”
The formula for “Gilligan’s Island” is foolproof, said Morris on the telephone while shopping at “Crossdress for Less,” his nickname for discount retailer Ross.
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“Each episode features a guest star that gets stranded on the island with Gilligan and the gang,” he elaborated. “By the end, the guest gets rescued and (the castaways) don’t.”
In Morris’ reimagined story, Kyle Garcia stars as Cody Tanner, a young YouTube sensation who is taking the ferry to Fire Island for the first time. He’s giddy, until a careless drag queen knocks him overboard. Cody washes up on the beach only to be discovered by Gilligan, the Skipper, the millionaire and his wife, a movie star, the professor and Mary Anne, to borrow the line-up from the show’s familiar theme song.
At first, Gilligan mistakes young Cody for a mermaid and later, an alien from outer space. After the confusion dies down, the castaways show the self-entitled millennial a wonderful gay time—after some more zany plot twists that Morris refused to reveal.
Award-winning South Florida actor Mike Westrich is Gilligan, and the cast also includes Scott Travis (Skipper), Morris (The Howells), Trevor Peringer (Ginger), Ben Prayz (The Professor) and David Tracy (Mary Ann.)
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As in all of Morris’ productions, all the female roles are portrayed by men wearing wigs, heels and make-up.
“You can never make fun of (the characters), you have to celebrate them,” said Morris of his writing philosophy. “Sherwood Schwartz created amazing characters.”
And while recognizable costumes help define those well-known characters, casting can still be a challenge.
“It’s so hard to cast lookalikes who are also great comic actors who bring their sense of character to the roles,” he said.
The play received its world premiere by the Uptown Players in Dallas last year, selling out a seven-week run.
See “Gilligan’s Fire Island” by Jamie Morris, July 15 – Aug. 14, at Empire Stage, 1140 N. Flagler Dr. in Fort Lauderdale. Performances on Thursday – Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 5 p.m. Tickets $35 at EmpireStage.com.