Dripping late from a brisk sprint through San Francisco’s saturated cloudiness, I stepped into an alternate reality. Everything looked copasetic: the expansive and brimming Eureka Theater with Phil LaMarr and Jordan Black beginning a scene. Not quite, the truth: the expansive and brimming Eureka Theater with Lewis J. Poole and Danger beginning a scene.
Polle and Danger are two African American actors separated by age but bonded by prior convictions and thespian rehabilitation. They were bad, objectively horrible, nightmarishly stiff and unflinchingly unaware. It was brilliant.
Their teacher, the notorious Beverly Winwood (Susan Yeagley), brought the two and a slew of classmates to present a selection of material from Broadway to Hollywood. A wide array of performance art was displayed from ventriloquism to Lindy Hop.
Center stage was the pedestal for failure. Presented by the Groundlings, The Actor’s Showcase boasted the allure of show business, removed the glamour/prestige, and amplified its sadness to a hilarious affect. The thrill of the stage is infections and Beverly Winwood’s “actors” were grossly infected.
An omni-directional perspective arose from the show’s ethereal concept. A beginning and an end were guaranteed; the rest was left to insanely wander. Layered shades of competence, impotence, oblivious sincerity and ominous circumstances made the show rich. Dramatic irony from off base interpretations of famous works like RENT and The Glass Menagerie made the experience richer. A stellar cast of comedy actors, too many and too talented to concisely accredit, made for a ravaging showcase, excuse me, fauxcase.
An uncredited principal of the Groundling’s production was the fascinating culture of show business, society’s voyeuristic obsession with Tinsletown. From Hollywood’s artificial reality springs a geyser of archetypes and landmarks, which when brilliantly lampooned, tore through the crowd like cannon balls. The dreams of art patrons are often akin to the characters depicted in The Actor’s Showcase, rendering their plight in a painfully familiar light. Don’t worry; it was good, rousing, empathetic, schendenfreude pain. There was hope and pathos in every laughable faux pas. True underdogs became minor champions against their calamitous existence.
“The show must go on”, theater’s most cliché saying was observed literally. After the final bow, the “actors” streamed into the lobby to meet and greet. Jim Rash handed out punch; Phil LaMarr gave me a program (and commented on my lateness). It’s unknown if the show even ended, or if within an eternally beautiful struggle, Winwood’s players are still melting under the spotlight of their own demise.