A friend of mine recently called to ask for suggestions about plays to see in San Francisco. She read the listings. The first was Urinetown. The next was something with the word "vomit" in the title. Well, I like to think I'm as modishly jaded as the next person, but, really, how much "edginess" can you take?
As an antidote, may I suggest two great summer shows at Le Chat Noir, both of which are immensely enjoyable. I don't know what the opposite of "edgy" is -- perhaps "curvaceous." Anyway, these shows are it! They're bright, clever, bursting with talent. And you leave the theater feeling better than when you went in.
Pat Hazell, who gave us his amusing one-man show The Wonder Bread Years last year at the Chat, is back with a three-hander called Bunk Bed Brothers.
The set (by the ingenious David Rafel) is a boy's bedroom. The place is chock-a-block with the memorabilia of childhood: posters, pennants, toys, trophies, board games, etc. Two grown-up brothers, Pat and Matt, have returned home for a family function: their grandparents' 75th wedding anniversary. Within the confines of the room they shared as kids, they regress into an earlier way of being and of relating to each other. That's pretty much it. And it doesn't sound like much. But neither does a Bach fugue sound like much, if you describe it in words.
What is it exactly that makes Bunk Bed Brothers so funny and so appealing? The writing, for one thing. Hazell and his co-author, Matt Goldman, both wrote for Seinfeld -- and the play feels like television at its rare best. The brothers, Pat and Matt, are both quick witted and verbally astute. They enjoy the ping-pong of repartee and delight in returning a wisecrack -- with a new, devilish little spin into the bargain. In a way, although one thinks of television, this is the grand Oscar Wilde manner in disguise -- because the characters are funny in their reactions, but funnier still in their manner of speaking. And while the goings-on sort of seem like real life, no one in real life is quite that quick or clever or mercurial. Anyway, things drift off from time to time into a marvelous halfway realm -- most emphatically, when the Domino's Pizza man (a real Domino's Pizza man) arrives on the set to make a delivery and is handed some pages of dialogue to read, while being coaxed ... by the actors? By the characters? In the bedroom? In the Chat Noir? Who knows or cares, it's hilarious.
The other solid ingredient in the show is the acting. Hazell, William Ragsdale and Clive Rosengren (who plays the boy's fun-loving father) give spot-on, spontaneous-seeming performances. Their comic timing is perfect -- a thought that occurs to you in the interludes when you're not laughing. This is not surprising given their combined credits, which include appearances on The Tonight Show, Judging Amy, Cheers and many others.
While some of life's problems are touched on (Pat is in big financial trouble, Dad needs heart surgery), there are no serious conflicts within this family. The world portrayed is gentle, benevolent and wholesome.
I shudder to think of the geometric complexity involved, but somehow by five o'clock Sunday evening, the elaborate Bunk Bed set had vanished from the little stage at the Chat and been replaced by a snazzy silhouetted jazz combo cutout with dangling silver notes and stars for The Andrew Sister's Hollywood Canteen.
Dorian Rush, Elizabeth Pearce and Brian Peterson (impeccably transformed in gender) are the famous songbirds of the 1940s. World War II is in full swing. The girls are in "soldierette" gear and broadcasting live to lift the morale of GIs everywhere. The script runs little changes on this theme. A sailor (Flynn De Marco), pulled from the audience to help out, provides the best joke in the show. After he does a Carmen Miranda number, sister Peterson remarks, "Honestly, there's nothing more ridiculous than a man in a dress!"
In any case, the dialogue is just a way of stringing the songs together. And the songs are fabulous: "Sing, Sing, Sing," "Rhumboogie," "Minnie the Moocher" and all the rest. The sterling threesome is aided by Rob Thomas as a glamour boy crooner and Ruthann Black as a waitress with a knockout set of pipes. De Marco charms us many times over with his easy, ambling ways and solid vocals. The good music of the "good" war makes for one helluva good time.
- Pat (Pat Hazell) and Matt (William Ragsdale) revisit their childhood in Bunk Bed Brothers at Le Chat Noir.