SOME THINGS ARE SACRED. There are works of art that reach perfection—novels so novelistic, films so filmic, tapestries so... tapestral—that they are considered "unadaptable."
Weekend at Bernie's is not one of those things. The 1989 film is about two friends—awkward Richard and brash Larry—who discover that their boss, Bernie, is dead. To get laid at his beach house, they marionette his corpse around the Hamptons.
In other words, it's begging for adaptation. Thank god for Sean McGrath and Jason Rouse, the stars and adaptateurs of a new Weekend at Bernie's along the lines of Road House: The Play! and Sweat. (You'll recognize much of this cast from those productions.)
Directed for the tiny Funhouse Lounge stage by Ted Douglass (of the 3rd Floor), Weekend at Bernie's brings speedboatloads of new jokes to a movie that could be a one-trick pony. McGrath and Rouse streamline the plot to make room for 60-jokes-a-minute writing, while dropping a few theatre-with-an-re tricks, such as the spot-lit introductory list of outrageous facts about Bernie (e.g., "He has a PHONE in his CAR!").
The acting takes some cues from the film, but mostly transcends. McGrath does a spot-on Andrew McCarthy, but Rouse replaces Jonathan Silverman's strangely sexy whisper with a stilted, stammering nervousness.
The rest of the cast is funny—Chris Murray plays late-'80s cocaine better than anybody not actually on cocaine should be able to—but Andrew Harris' slimily charismatic Bernie steals the show. It helps that he gets to share scenes with actors like Lori Ferraro as the unbelievably slutty Tina, his sexual partner to the very end and beyond.
It's impressive that the play doesn't feel like parody. In fact, you don't need to have seen the movie to enjoy this production. It just works. Maybe it's Portland reggae legend Floyd Cruse's turn as "narrator," which I guarantee will have you rolling in the aisle. Maybe it's the stiff drinks. But it's probably just a fantastically funny cast and a clever script, directed well at an intimate venue. And someone, for some reason, shouting, "LARGE, FAMOUS MEN!"