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'Stalker Bob and His Mother' almost funny enough to overcome performances

The premise has promise in the comedy “Stalker Bob and His Mother,” having its world premiere with a three-week run at Empire Stage in Fort Lauderdale. The gay-themed show is by playwright Michael Aman, whose dramas “Poz” and “Feeding the Bear” were produced by LGBT-focused Island City Stage and critically lauded (not so much this past summer with his “Muscle Bears the Musical”).

Like that hairy fairy tale set in an urban gay world of large, hirsute, hypermasculine men, “Stalker Bob” has some sharp quips that hint at a staging better able to sustain its tone than this production. Although directed by Aman, who one supposes would know how to keep all the plates spinning in his screwball script, the show seems aimless at points, ragged in others and under-rehearsed overall.

What a shame, because there are some jokes in “Stalker Bob” that kill. Even the setup is comedy gold. Jimmy (Michael Bush) and Jim (Harry Redlich) are a couple recently retired to Florida, where tedium has set in: “Let’s be like when we first got together, when we both were cheating on our wives, with each other.”

Apparently, the men play around a bit, both as a couple and on the side. A tryst with dimwitted hustler Bob (Eytan Deray) sets off warning bells when he keeps inventing reasons to return to their home.

“He’s young,” says Jim, defending Bob’s behavior.

“So was Lizzie Borden,” Jimmy counters.

But Bob is just a foil, used to distract the guys, while his career criminal mother, Mona (Beverly Blanchette), plots to loot the couple’s comfortable home. Jimmy and Jim are drawn into a crime-fighting adventure neither saw coming.

Those exploits never quite elevate beyond sketch comedy. Maybe things will gel a bit further in the run when the cast has a tighter grip on their roles. The humor is there, and even frequent line stumbles can’t derail Aman’s funny script. Strangely, it is when the action ratchets up to what should be the big comedic payoff near the end of 80 intermission-free minutes that “Stalker Bob” falls apart and just sort of gives up on its cleverness. And its promise.

“Stalker Bob and His Mother” runs through Dec. 23 at Empire Stage, 1140 N Flagler Drive, in Fort Lauderdale. Showtimes are 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays and 5 p.m. Sundays. Tickets cost $30. To order, call 954-678-1496 or go to EmpireStage.com.

rhagwood@southflorida.com

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