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Writing for Us
A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
By David Avery
Jean Claude Liebermenchausen's (Mitch Watson) profanity-laced opening monologue is direct, hostile, and bitter. It immediately sets the tone for the rest of the Actors' Gang revival of Klüb, an existential farce about a group of performers trapped backstage at a theater. Every night they compete against each other to convince the disembodied voice of Mike the Director (played by real director Michael Schlitt) to let one person escape.
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Liebermenchausen is a clown with a poor accent and a bad attitude who functions as a sadistic stage manager, enforcing his dictates at gunpoint. Strangely, as the play progresses, he becomes the most likeable character in the ghoulish ensemble of reprobates which includes a beauty obsessed actress (Evie Peck), a vaudeville team of hacks (Michael Neimand and Joseph Grim), an obviously too-old Little Orphan Annie (Beth Tapper) and her assistant (Hannah Chodos), a very bad mentalist (Lauren Oppelt), a suicidal mime (Emilia Herman), a sideshow geek (Brian Allman), and a has-been ex-child actor (Nathan Kornelis).
The actors vie for points by performing for Mike, and the one with the most points wins. Mike rewards and revokes points on a whim. The actors taunt and humiliate each other, and as this occurs three main stories are revealed: Richard Gleason's attempts to be taken seriously as an adult actor, Annie's relationship with Noni (her assistant), and how the vaudeville team of the "Woodnards" (yes that is really their stage name) came to be.
Subtlety is not an abundant commodity in this play which, in fact, it goes to great lengths to assault the audiences senses with a grand-guignol flair. Hank, the Human Acid Tank (the sideshow geek) has a talent for consuming household cleaning agents and then regurgitating them as designer perfume. Dominique the mime is so bad she narrates her own act. Betty Shaeffer, a newly arrived member to the company, is so body-obsessed that when Mike suggest her nose is wrong, she immediately whips out a power drill and engages in self-rhinoplasty (spewing blood down the front of her dress).
While the performances are uniformly good, and the pacing is never dull, the narrative is too predictable to be very satisfying. The revelations of each character's story are telegraphed fairly early on and aren't particularly novel (and this is from someone who didn't see the original production). Kudos, however, to Francios-Pierre Couture's dense scenic design that simulates the cluttered world backstage (I believe I saw relics of Carnage, another Actors' Gang production).
A larger problem, however, is the overall tone— characters who exhibit the stereotypes of the behavior one sees in the tabloids and consequently elicit no empathy. Watson's play is to some extent an indictment of entertainment folks in general, and I understand we are supposed to be mocking them. Still, there should be some level of association. Instead, there's a distinct air of smugness and cruelty throughout the endeavor and it's unlikely that the moebius strip of theatrical satire occurring onstage is going to have the same impact for someone not involved in the business of producing plays.
Let's face it, most people that try to make it in the entertainment industry fail. Even though this play was written years ago, it seems a little mean-spirited for a successful writer such as Watson to point a finger at them and laugh.
Leonard Maltin's 2008 Movie Guide
Easy-on-the budget super gift for yourself and your musical loving friends. Tons of gorgeous pictures.