Sunday, September 21, 2008

What Becomes A Legend Least?

Two fantasies dominate the minds of many young men.  One is to become a superhero.  The other is to have a big dick.  Surprisingly, these two fetishes dominated my weekend in ways I could never have anticipated.

One of the films scheduled for screening at the 2008 Mill Valley Film Festival is a Chilean entry written and directed by Ernesto Diaz Espinoza which has a decidedly quirky appeal.  Mirageman follows the exploits of Maco, a bodyguard at a local nightclub who is obsessed with physical fitness and martial arts. Earlier in his life Maco and his family were attacked and beaten by burglars, who proceeded to kill his parents and sexually molest his younger brother.   Maco now pays frequent visits to his silent, traumatized brother who lives in a mental institution where he has become a fairly talented sketch artist.

Images of the bullies who tortured the two brothers in their youth continue to haunt their minds, with Maco constantly striving to perfect his body to a point where he will never again be vulnerable. However, after coming to the rescue of a sexy female news anchor whose apartment is being robbed, the lure of fame starts to get under Maco's skin.  

Several days later, after chasing down a purse snatcher, Maco latches on to the idea of reinventing himself as a local superhero.  Working feverishly in his basement studio apartment, he experiments with various masks and fashion statements as he tries to forge the image of a new superhero:  Mirageman.

His first attempts don't go so well.  He doesn't have a Bat signal and his first outfit gets criticized by news commentators for making him look like a girl.  Maco soon learns that it takes time to change out of his street clothing to pursue a criminal and that, while you were beating up some thugs, someone may have stolen the clothes you left behind.  

After being spotlighted on the evening news (and posting an ad on the internet advertising his desire to help people in need), Maco's life starts barreling out of control.  Street gangs start taunting him, daring him to prove he's the real thing.  A lumpy and not-too-bright wannabe keeps announcing his desire during television interviews to become Mirageman's sidekick.

When someone kidnaps the television reporter he had rescued, Maco must prove his skills at rescuing her in what turns out to be an elaborately staged reality show.  Maco's one last attempt to rescue a little girl abducted by a group called Red Pedophil leads to his untimely death.

Some of the fight scenes are truly exciting, more of them feel very carefully rehearsed by someone who wishes he could be Spiderman. Although the movie has a few clunky patches, it's worth watching just to see Marko Zaror's tensely-muscled body dripping in sweat as he works out in his studio apartment.  Maria Elena Swett costars as  the newswoman, Carol Valdivieso. 

Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne have absolutely nothing to worry about. Here's the trailer:

Now let's talk about an obsessive search for monster dick.  That would, in fact, be Moby Dick! The Musicalwhich was execrably produced and directed for Theater Rhinoceros by John Fisher. 

The company's press release describes it as "a runaway cult hit." 

So was Jonestown.

I've sat through some pretty wretched musicals in my life.  There was Something More with Arthur Hill, Peg Murray and Barbara Cook (back in the days when she could wear a bikini onstage) and Her First Roman (with Leslie Uggams as Cleopatra).  There was Winnie! (a British musical about Winston Churchill whose second act opened with the bombing of St. Paul's Cathedral) and the first tryout performance of Dear World in Boston.  I've sat through the wreckage of Georgy, Prettybelle,  and once even caught the second act of The Fig Leaves Are Falling.

But Moby Dick! The Musical is way beyond appalling.  It is a toxic black hole of radioactively misguided theatrical intentions.

The evening got off to a late start due to complications with the box office and an auditorium overflowing with friends of the young cast. That guaranteed an enthusiastic audience.  But when you fill a stage with screaming amateurs attempting to portray incompetent screaming amateurs, you're headed for trouble.  Even with Fisher sitting in the aisle just behind me --  eagerly leading the applause like a paid clacquer at La Scala -- this was a painful experience in bad theater.

The play within a play has the students of St. Godley's School For Young Ladies desperately using their newly-written musicalization of Herman Melville's Moby Dick as a last-minute fundraiser for their financially threatened school.  Headed by the archtypical headmistress, Gloria Hymen, B.S., P.M.S., who deigns to take on the taxing role of Captain Ahab, the girls basically scream and jump their way through the evening with Mike Finn ditsily doubling as Pip and Elijah.

There were plenty of jokes about chasing (Moby) dick, wanting a great big white dick, and a few limericks to boot.  Call it High School Musical: The Abomination.

Jean Franco Pilas,  Jarrod Pirtle, and Linda Wang (Photo by Kent Taylor)

Many years ago, when San Francisco's Cockettes took a grand tour to New York, Rex Reed famously wrote that "Having no talent is not enough."

"Oh, but that's the point," you say.  "This is supposed to be bad theater."

True, but there is such a thing as exceeding beyond everyone's wildest expectations. Written by Robert Longden and Hereward Kaye, Moby Dick! The Musical started out in Cambridge in the 1990s, where it was performed in an underground theater.  Although produced on London's West End by Cameron Macintosh, it was a major flop.  

It is possible that with a lot of money, a cast that can actually sing, a skilled director, and a decent band, there might be something here worth staging.  But as mounted at the Rhino,  this is a case of mutant theater undermined by wretched excess.  

I applaud Matthew Martin for his dual portrayals of Gloria Hymen and Captain Ahab.  He has a large fan base in town for his many drag portrayals and he handled himself as nobly as possible under the circumstances.  

I wish I could be more gracious in describing the evening, but Moby Dick! stank like rotting blubber.

Matthew Martin as the Headmistress (Photo by Kent Taylor)

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