Friday, September 12, 2008

Lost in Bonkers

When an evening of theater is divided into three distinct acts, it's easy to compare their cumulative effect to that of a three-course meal. The first act might be fairly light, an appetizer, some fruit or perhaps a tossed salad.  The second course would no doubt be the entree: meaty, filled with protein and occasionally requiring the diner to do some solid chewing.  The last course would be a dessert: airy, fluffy, sweet and perhaps a bit sticky.

That pretty much describes how my Thursday night at the San Francisco Fringe Festival played out.  First up, was a ditzy comedy called Tenderloin Christmas Hustler, described by its authors (Jake Eastman, Demetrius Martin, and Todd Pickering) as follows:
"A mash-up parody of just about every Christmas televison, movie, or play, Tenderloin Christmas Hustler follows the adventures of one particular misfit boy on his journey to find acceptance. Set to many familiar tunes from the holiday season, TCH is a very cheeky, heartbreakingly sweet new holiday classic. It's Urinetown meets It's a Wonderful Life!"
The show got off to a righteously raucous start as the bitchy drag queen at the piano turned around and yelled "Hey, shut your fuckin' phones off!"   From there, the merrily-psyched audience began to join in the narration of T.C.'s winter tale.  

Having ruined his one chance to join his high school wrestling team when his "glitter glands" prematurely ejaculated  all over his classmates, T.C. leaves his suburban home in "Walnut Bleak" and hops on BART to explore the Castro in the hope of buying a last-minute Christmas tree at the Delancy Street lot and discovering if he could possibly be of use to someone.  

With the audience following its singing cues to a newer and grittier version of "The Little Drummer Boy," T.C. quickly encounters a modern day Santa Bear who is, in fact, pimping out (a) a transgender hooker named Holle Berry, (b) a dominant named Dominic, and (c) an appealing short little piece of beefcake named Tiny Tim.

Ho Ho Ho.

One Ho.  

Two Ho.

Or would you prefer #3 Ho?

While the audience loved Tenderloin Christmas Hustler's sentimental faux ice skating scene (wittily choreographed by Diane Karagienakos), other moments tended to sag. Some of the fun was dampened by a distinct lack of singing talent. Although one was tempted to yell "Sing out, Luis!" there was, alas, no guarantee that Michael Turner could find Tiny Tim's next note (Yes, Virginia, there are gay men with absolutely no sense of pitch). 

Raya Light made numerous heavily costumed appearances as Chrystal Miss and the Ghosts of Tricking (Past, Present and Future). Although highly spirited and extremely eager to please, Tabetha Michael von Mohn's Holle Berry didn't land on her lines or notes with much precision.

Christopher Struett and Michael Turner in Tenderloin Christmas Hustler
 (Photo by Demetrius Martin)

Even so, the audience had a rousing good time, thanks in no small part to the sweet charm of Christopher Struett as T.C. There were laughs aplenty, with much yelping coming from an audience which -- from the volume of their merriment and glee -- seemed to have freshly had their salads tossed.

The main course was more difficult to digest, reminding one of a steak that had far more gristle than marbling.  Omar Sangare's one-man show, True Theater Critic, is intended to depict a man suffering from "an exuberance of ambition."  While some people may interpret the show as being about a less-than-talented author struggling to overcome writer's block (who is intimidated by the power of the language at his fingertips), I found the artistic journey less than ennobling.

There is no doubt that Mr. Sangare is a professionally-trained actor who knows precisely how to use his voice as a musical instrument. Unfortunately, in this case the text he has created does not support Mr. Sangare's strength onstage as a performer.  Whether Mr. Sangare is babbling psychotically in English or Polish (does this make his character bipolar or just Bi-Polish?), one ends up with the uncomfortable feeling of being stuck in a prison cell with Yul Brynner as he struggles to find the words and sounds required to talk about anything other than himself.

Omar Sangare in True Theater Critic (Photo by D. Bazenore)

Every breath and movement in Mr. Sangare's play has been meticulously choreographed and yet, despite the physical intensity of this gifted performer's work, True Theater Critic failed to grab me.

I was much happier -- indeed insanely delighted -- by Paul Hutcheson's hilarious one-man showed entitled On Second Thought.  Often described as an up-and-coming cross between David Sedaris and Jim Carrey, Mr.  Hutcheson takes great delight in exploring the more gruesome moments of his past at his own expense.  

Whether portraying an adolescent athlete who has just slid into a whopping pile of dogshit, or imitating the sound of a herd of kangaroos descending on him as he walks down a dark and lonely road in rural Australia, Hutcheson is an absolute delight.  Whereas some comics might not want to "go there," Hutcheson doesn't hesitate to use his warped sensitivity to depict a group of spastic teenagers with Down syndrome as they try to decide how to rescue him from the seated power lawnmower he has so elegantly managed to capsize and land underneath.

Whether describing his sky-diving experiences, the customers who rent porn at an adult video store in the Toronto suburbs, or playing with the audience while happily making a fool of himself, Hutcheson delivers the goods in spades.

As a seductively hilarious dessert, I'd rate this brilliant comic tart as a lemon meringue, with his half baked sugary top teased to perfection.

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