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SHOWGIRLS in the NY Post

Mar 18, 2015

GUILTY-PLEASURE FILM AND TV TAKES CENTER STAGE
CANCEL your Netflix - now you can watch all of the brilliantly crap-tastic sex and violence of 'Showgirls' re-created live and right in front of your very eyes.

With a few creative liberties, of course.

It's Ultimate Guilty Pleasure Theater - and it's hilarious.

'It's not so different from Broadway,' says actor and writer John Flynn, who co-created 'Showgirls: The Best Movie Ever Made. Ever!' at Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre (307 W. 26th St., 366-9176), which is running Thursdays at 9:30 p.m. through June. 'Audience members know the story, and the stories around a movie or TV show. With 'Showgirls,' it's just like watching a car wreck, but without any of the guilt.'


Three wacky adaptations of film and TV shows are taking center off-off-Broadway stage as sleeper hits in sending up the popular culture you know and love - or know and love to hate.

Keeping in the spirit of camp value, 'Point Break LIVE!' at Galapagos Art Space (70 N. Sixth St., Brooklyn) allows an audience member to actually play the dim-witted undercover surfer agent made famous by Keanu Reeves. Over at The People's Improv Theater (154 W. 29th St.), audiences also get in on the action - and solve the crime - as part of an interactive spoof on the ever-addictive Dick Wolf series Law & Order.

'Everybody secretly wants to be Keanu Reeves,' says 'Point Break LIVE!' co-creator Jamie Hook, a 36-year-old Brooklynite who directs the play, running Sundays at 8 p.m. through the end of April. 'Who wouldn't want to be him? He's a big great famous action movie star and 'Point Break LIVE!' gives you that chance. We are saying, 'You don't have to settle.''

Although a procedural drama junkie probably could settle for sitting at home watching Law & Order almost 24 hours a day, the new live-stage parody at The P.I.T. allows audience members to solve crimes not so much ripped from the headlines but rather bastardized from the weekly news. One recent whodunit? A murder mystery involving Slobodan Milosevic on alternative Spring Break.The accused culprit? None other than ALF.

'Our show is like fantasy camp for 'Law & Order' fans,' says co-creator Jamil Ellis, 28, whose improv group Experimental Troupe Comedy developed the show, which runs the last Saturday of each month at 7 p.m., through July. 'People get obsessed with Star Trek conventions and hang out with other people who are fans and dress up. So we're up there dressing up in our own Law & Order personalities.'

Indeed, obsession is a key factor in bringing these pop pleasures to the stage. In the UCB Showgirls adaptation, fellow die-hard junkies are often recruited to participate in the staged reading, with a new special guest every week. Legendary celebrity gossip columnist Michael Musto actually reached out to the creators of the parody to participate. After Valley of the Dolls, he considers the bawdy box-office bomb to be his favorite movie of all time.

'I grew up not knowing good from bad taste,' he said before the show began last week. 'I actually think Showgirls is a quality film. The great thing is, people who have never seen it come here, and they're on the floor laughing. It's a guilty pleasure, no matter what point of view you're coming from.'

The delightfully raunchy post-modern take on the film that essentially killed 'Saved by the Bell' wunderkind Elizabeth Berkley's career includes an over-the-top portrayal of the notorious screenwriter Joe Eszterhas (John Reynolds) as well as an incredibly dramatic reading of his stage directions. These include such bon mots as 'She is very fat. Unf---ably fat.' Tying it all together is a rabidly worshipful Queens Community College feminism professor who declares the film to be one of the greatest portrayals of females and minorities of all time.

Playing Berkley's Nomi Malone ('Know me. I'm alone.') is Lennon Parham, who, true to the film's cringe factor commits 200 percent to every terrible line. Her eyes practically popping out of her skull with focus, Parham intermittently lets out intense little animal-like shrieks and frenziedly bats around stage props in a fury.

'With all these shows, there needs to be a genre that you are exploiting and heightening,' says the Showgirls parody co-creator Jackie Clarke, 30, who plays the deluded feminist professor. 'The thing that we really have fun with is how Elizabeth Berkley was directed in this incredibly manic way. Even when she puts ketchup on her fries, it's like the ketchup was the father who abused her. It's not even melodramatic. It's like melo-violent.'


Equally train-wrecky in its appeal is the absurdism of 'Point Break LIVE!,' which brings to the stage the classic 1992 cinematic tale of extreme sports rife with bankrobbing, skydiving, car chases and explosions aplenty.

'Audience for theater is being stolen by Hollywood because people want to go see these big blockbuster movies,' Hook says. ''Point Break LIVE!' is saying put action back where it belongs: on stage.'

Featuring fake blood, extended fight choreography and even an indoor monsoon, 'Point Break LIVE!' is built around the notion that playing Reeves demands a special kind of acting. One of complete and utter cluelessness.

'People's secret, innermost desire is to be Keanu,' Hook says. 'I bet if we could get Tony Kushner in the theater, he wouldn't pass up the chance.'

There is truth to the irresistibility of playing - or reprising certain pop culture roles - on stage. In the Law & Order spoof, each show features an actor who has already appeared on the long-running NBC franchise to add an extra level of crime-solving finesse. For Showgirls, not only has Musto played the role of uber-skeevy casting director Tony Moss, but so has Zulema from Project Runway and upcoming weeks feature Frank DeCaro and Rob Corddry of The Daily Show.

While slated through July, co-creator Flynn says he already has his eye on future possibilities for guilty- pleasure theatrical remount. While nothing could ever live up to a movie where Berkley is naked for one-sixth the entire running time, he says he and Clarke just may have stumbled upon a new muse.

'It is hard to find anything more crap-tastic than this movie,' says Flynn, who estimates he has seen Showgirls anywhere between 100 and 200 times. 'Although a bunch of us went and saw Basic Instinct 2 last weekend, and I have to say, there's definitely potential.'


SHOWGIRLS
Every Thursday @ 9:30pm
$5


NY Shows

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"We Used To Go Out" with Jason Mantzoukas & Jessica St. Clair scores an A+ at Spoleto 2006

Mar 18, 2015

REVIEW | We Used to Go Out
Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston in The Break Up? Oh, please -- see this instead.

Perhaps you're not one for reviews. Perhaps you'd rather just hear what the man on the street has to say than maneuver through an in-depth, point-by-point analysis of why We Used to Go Out is so hysterically brilliant. In that case, you need read no further than this succinct opinion overheard in the lobby of Theatre 99 as the boisterous audience milled out of last night's show: "Dude, that was the funniest shit ever."

We Used to Go Out is spot-on. You know it's spot-on when the woman in front of you is snorting audibly and the man next to her won't stop howling. Jessica St. Clair and Jason Mantzoukas may not be a couple in real life, but the same-name characters they play in this hour-long examination of a relationship on its last legs are so intrinsically convincing that you'll leave kind of wishing they were -- if only so you might be invited to one of their dinner parties. Not that you'd be able to pay any attention to your seared tuna steak, of course. Are you kidding? You'd be laughing too hard.

From the opening scene, featuring the imminent arrival of a lesbian couple Jason has persuaded Jessica to welcome into the bedroom -- "but the apartment is a mess! Should I get snacks? What do lesbians eat before sex?" -- to the hilarious post-breakup confrontation when Jessica, new date in tow, runs into Jason at a Valentine's Day screening of The Notebook, the show is packed with witty, acerbic, and ridiculously perfect observations of 21st century relationships.

Though We Used to Go Out is far from improv comedy, the dialogue is so inherently real and natural that it might as well be. Conversation is suffused with slang, fights appear absolutely unscripted, and the juxtaposition of the well-meaning Jessica's slightly hysterical shrillness with Jason's lackadaisical sheepishness is immediately recognizable to anyone who remembers the painful tail-end of a partnership. Or, indeed, the middle of one.

Particularly memorable is the locker room scene, in which Mantzoukas is clad in a bobbed wig to play the part of Jessica's ditzy, bitchy, oh-my-god-like-totally best friend Peggy, who once sent out save-the-date cards for a wedding before her boyfriend had even proposed. Later he dons a backwards baseball cap and becomes knucklehead stoner Scooter, the blind date Jessica found on the Internet, who takes her back to his windowless storage room apartment, tells her stories of incinerating kittens -- "it totally made me crave kebabs, like, all day" -- and blunderingly attempts to get her into bed with lines like "Jessica! Look at the time! It's no-shirt-o'-clock!"

Go see We Used to Go Out. Maybe don't go see it with your parents -- unless, of course, you're okay with sitting next to your mother while oral sex is mimed on stage -- but go see it all the same. You'll leave just a little bit in love with both St. Clair and Mantzoukas, and not just because the latter does a whole scene with his shirt off. It helps, of course, but you're better off going for the humor. 
NY Classes

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UCBT TOUR CO Gets an A in Charleston, SC

Mar 18, 2015

REVIEW | Upright Citizens Brigade Touring Co.
Reliable company brings many laughs to Theatre 99

A: 
It really sucks reviewing improv shows. If the performers are slow or--worse still--unfunny, then there is nothing left to salvage. Usually of the up-down variety, there are no directors save the audience's laughter and the actors' imagination, and the show changes every night depending on that audience and those collective imaginations. If the performers aren't on top of their game, then all one can reasonably hope for is that the beer is cold. Luckily, with the exception of the inevitable unreliability of nightly improv, it's hard to find reasons not to recommend the ensemble that the Upright Citizens' Brigade Touring Company has brought to Charleston.

The key here is that it really is the quintessential ensemble show. The gelling of this group of (eight) comedians and performers is in plain evidence throughout. The ways in which they allow each other's ideas to flow through a bit's narrative, adapting and tweaking and adding for the most jiggle-joy possible; it's tough to beat. The set-up is given by the audience (one word ideas, always shouted: "Turkeys!" "Athol Fugard!" etc.) followed by a brief monologue from one of the performers on what the subject brings to mind, from which our magical mystery tour begins.

For this night's performance, the first act's subject was "Space!" (one lady was obsessed with "Ecuador!" but the performers gracefully avoided hearing her.) What came out of "Space!"? Well: a guy who's fallen from a cliff is then smothered by cement and a ten-pound sandwich; junior detectives assigned to cleaning the boss's office, who then fight crime with their mops and extreme prejudice; and, most notably, the line "Sorry, I was wiping off the orgy." All along the way we get skyscraper dog-piles, an impromptu marriage on a football field, babysitter spending sprees, pan-fried domestic pets, and a quasi-erotic exchange between a man and his friend's dismembered, talking leg. Put bluntly, if you can't find the humor in a man/dismembered-talking-leg relationship, then you sir have no soul.

In the second act, the UCB folks brought out Horatio Sanz. He was funny, and had a good bit where he was hiding a pretend dead wife in a pretend coat, but in some parts it was clear that he wasn't on the same wave length as the other guys (and gal). Still, it was cool to see him interact with performers besides his SNL regulars, and it is just this sort Wild West, anything goes mentality that makes this group so much fun to watch.

Obviously, there will be off nights. But that's the other great part about improv (if not of reviewing improv). It's the ultimate Buy-The-Ticket-Take-The-Ride theatre experience. And with this UCB ensemble, it will most likely be a happy one.
NY Classes

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