Y'at humor has long been local cottage industry. But it has recently come under pressure from a rising new force in the laugh market: the cross-gender trailer-park romp. Grenadine McGunkle (with an assist from that daft and congenial gang called Running With Scissors) recently invited one and all to the second edition of her Double-Wide Christmas at the Shim Sham Club. Just downriver, at the Cowpokes Barn Theatre, a miniaturized version of mobile-home mayhem was hosted by the versatile Lewis Routh.
People Come and Go So Quickly Here! was a one-man show, written by and starring Routh. "Written" is an inexact term, for one had the feeling that the witty and wicked script was often embroidered by extempore wisecracks. Routh the performer knows how to work an audience and give Routh the playwright the advantages that spring from the mood of a particular audience on a particular night.
If anybody had a problem with the outrageous, Routh gave them the opportunity to make an early escape from theater: the map he drew of Smirch, Miss., at the start of the show was both geographically and anatomically correct. One might encounter a similar depiction in an I-10 tourist-information office, or scrawled above the urinals at certain Rampart Street bars.
Routh appears as eight characters (each decked out in splashy comic gear by Bernadette Klotz). They are residents of the Terra Verde Trailer Park. Ostensibly, they are here trying to entertain an audience (us), who have come to see a children's presentation of The Wizard of Oz. The bus carrying the children had an accident, however; it swerved to avoid hitting a chicken (and why on earth did that chicken cross the road?). Mostly, however, they gossip about the goings-on in their kitsch arcadia.
Much of the humor is a direct result of tragic events that occurred during the great tornado of 1989. It seems an errant husband left a farewell billet douce, written in squirt cheese, inside his paramour's Frigidaire/lawn ornament, where he had taken refuge. And that's just the tip of the trash heap. Along the way, we meet such dubious citizens as the Rev. Whacker (proprietor of the AirStream chapel and drive-through baptismal car wash), who goes to New Orleans every year for Southern Decay-dance day to minister to sailors, or Samantha Beaver, owner of Samantha's Barbecue, who confesses that Luther Boudreaux has been known to help "marinate her pork loins."
As in any genre, there is a familiar given of archetypes (or stereotypes, depending-whether you're friendly or hostile to the endeavor). The inventiveness comes in the details, the surprises, the twists on the expected. Routh has inventiveness to spare, and his softens the sting of his satire with an infectious sense of fun.
Fun was not a conspicuous part of the mix around the corner from Cowpokes, at a new theater space called The Refuge, where New Orleans newcomer Michael Martin performed his monologue Hinckley on Foster. One reviewer from Chicago, where Martin did a well-received run, called it "a tour de force of Dostoyevskian fury."
To the tune of "You Made Me Love You," a nervous young man with straight blond hair and large glasses steps onto a bare platform. We are in some sort of institution and Hinckley is being interviewed or coached by a barely audible offstage voice coming through a speaker.
Needless to say, we are off on a weird journey -- into the mind of a man who felt compelled to shoot then-President Ronald Reagan as a "love offering" to Jodie Foster, the movie star he worshiped and lusted for at a distance. The weirdness is not without its comic moments, particularly toward the beginning, as when Hinckley announces, not without a tinge of malicious satisfaction, that he "ruined the insanity defense" for anyone who came after him.
Hinckley has been diagnosed with "narcissistic personality disorder," but he sees the problem in simpler and more universal terms, as "someone who wants to be famous and isn't." Martin has clearly immersed himself in this character and his worldview. He wins our attention and holds it easily. Quite simply, we are convinced. And the show gives off a fascinating, unwholesome, "fact is weirder than fiction" glow, like a lump of radium pulsating in the darkness. How horrible to follow this haunted individual through the labyrinth of his obsession.
I have to say, however, after the first hour, my attention began to flag. When we passed the 90-minute mark (and what seemed like several implied endings), my eyes began to glaze over. And as we inched toward hour two, "narcissistic personality disorder" began to take on a whole new meaning.
- Lewis Routh delivered a versatile performance in his recent one-man show, People Come and Go So Quickly Here, at the Cowpokes Theater.