Thursday, January 15, 2009

"Rich and Famous": ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG

John Guare plays always make you think ('Six Degrees of Separation,' 'House of Blue Leaves,' the screenplay for Louis Malle's 'Atlantic City'), but 'Rich and Famous' is not only deep but really, really funny. Guare's dialog and John Rando's direction are only a banana peel or two shy of slapstick, but the belly laughs are tempered by disbelieving gasps of discovery. The acting is tremendous. Several set pieces are classics. You leave the theater wide-eyed and bushy-tailed. So what's not to like?

...NOTHING! The grumpy old reviewer loved every minute!

Mary Birdsong just about steals the show. In real life, she sings in a band called 99 Cent Whore. So it is fitting that she plays four roles in this production and, in her finest moment, ends up in a bottomless trashcan pulling her press clippings behind her. As famed Broadway agent Veronica Gulpp-Vestige, Birdsong looks like a decrepit Katharine Hepburn and sounds like a deranged Ethel Merman. She has achieved everything in her show biz life except for the thing she craves: a comeback. To have a comeback she needs a failure. This is why she has latched on to the first produced play of wannabe playwright Bing Ringling (played to perfection by Brooks Ashmanskas).

(John Guare is a lyricist. Did he hire Ashmanskas to finally find a word that rhymes with Kansas? Just asking.)

Birdsong is fabulously slimy as Veronica, but she kills us dead as Bing's Mom. She has had his soiled baby diapers bronzed. She tries to put the grown man on her lap on the sofa and give him a bottle. Parents throughout the audience turn to each other and whisper: "Honey, that's not us, is it?"

And let's not forget to mention Stephen DeRosa as Dad with the American Legion hat in the photo above, and as the unforgettable songwriter Anatole Torah. Guare has written that Torah is the combination of Leonard Bernstein, Jerome Robbins and Joe Papp. Add in Larry, Moe, Curly Joe and Don Music from Sesame Street. DeRosa is really good. And Scott Bradley's two bedroom sets for the Anatole Torah and Mom and Dad scenes, the second one green and the first one pink, are classic.

Gregory Wallace, as always, is wonderful as Aphro, both onstage as an actor/unemployed transvestite hooker, and offstage as we hear him crucify poor Bing's dialog. Wallace's syntax is so distinctive that it is probably inevitable that by show's end every character is talking exactly like him.

So what's it all about, Aphro? The message might be that you shouldn't drink the glamourous Kool-Aid of success, but it might also be that you should. For sure, don't buy the cufflinks. You might end up like Tybalt Dunleavy (also played by Stephen DeRosa), who is probably the only man on Earth who actually likes Bing's play.

It's fabulous. Go see this show and go see it now.

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Rich and Famous" Four Stars with a BANGLE of Praise. Acting, direction, story, pacing -- the four stars are easy. It's harder to pick which line of dialog deserves the BANGLE:
(1) (Bing describing how bad his play was): "I'm not into Zen, but I just heard the sound of one hand clapping."
(2) (Veronica talking about her future): "I'll be the greatest comeback since Jesus."

You choose.

"Rich and Famous"
A.C.T. Theater
415 Geary Street, San Francisco
Tue-Sun through February 8

1 comment:

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