“Have I Got a Girl for You,” currently playing at Island City Stage, is simply one of the funniest shows I’ve seen in years.
The unlikely premise — based on playwright Josh Mesnick’s own experiences — is ripe for laughs: An out-of-work musical theater actor moves to South Florida to enter rehab after a costly binger and winds up working as a pimp at an elite East Coast escort service to pay his bills.
In the course of a quick 90 minutes, Josh convinces the owner, Gina, an aging former centerfold model, to give him a break answering the phones since he will not be tempted to sample the merchandise. Soon, he becomes BFF to the girls and best bud to the men who seek their services. But, life may not be as good as it seems as Josh must choose between his job and a new paramour and, later, while conniving to start a competing agency, finds his success fleeting.
Under Michael Leed’s fast-paced direction, the one-liners and witty repartee hit the audience like well-placed gut punches, eliciting endless cackles and screams throughout. One woman was brought to tears on opening night.
Mike Westrich is likeable as Josh and Sharyn Peoples is a hot mess as the manic madam, but Christina Groom and Larry Buzzeo steal the show playing a range of wacky whores and the jerky johns. Some of the funniest moments come as Groom is forced to instantly transform from one girl to the next.
Watching “Have I Got a Girl for You,” which won audience prizes at 2012 New York International Fringe Festival, is like tuning in to a sitcom (Mesnick got help from a friend who writes sitcoms in Los Angeles) and that’s its primary shortcoming. It’s hilarious, but very shallow. Having had the opportunity to interview Mesnick prior to the show, I know the experience wasn’t always a bundle of laughs.
The on-stage Josh that Mesnick created is disappointingly two-dimensional. There is little time between the jokes to explore the real challenges he faced in his recovery and the compromises he made for his job. Anyone who is familiar with the 12-step program will cringe at the advice he gives a young, damaged girl he is ostensibly “sponsoring.”
And Gina is tough, a survivor who parlayed her 15-minutes of fame into a successful business. There must be a back story there to explore, as well as the complexities of her relationships with her schlumpy husband and troubled daughter.
“Have I Got a Girl for You” reminds me a lot of “Jeffrey,” Paul Rudnick’s comedy about dating in the AIDS era, complete with a musical theater number and audience “tutorials” that break down the fourth wall. With a larger cast and more resources, these sequences would lend clarity and consistency to the story. Perhaps Mesnick’s play is not a play or even a television sitcom, but a movie in the making.
Regardless of what it could be, for now, “Have I Got a Girl for You,” is a fun — and very funny — night at the theater.
If You Go
What: “Have I Got a Girl for You”
When: Thursday – Saturday, 8 p.m., Sunday, 5 p.m. through April 27
Where: Island City Stage at Empire Stage, 1140 N. Flagler Dr. in Fort Lauderdale
Cost: Tickets $30 at IslandCityStage.org