SAN DIEGO — Ever had your aura fluffed or your tofu scrambled? Do you whip out your wallet at the mention of a seminar on self-esteem, self-development, self-perception, self-deception or the search for Self?
If so, you could be in real trouble. You may be inadvertently following "The Nickel-Weiner Roadmap to Enlightenment," the kind of spiritual trek that never gets past sweet smiles and pretense or locks you into a pattern of guilty meditations, afraid to admit you never achieved "it."
How will you know if you're heading for this bog of eternal regression? By watching carefully a new work by former "Hot Flashes" Margaret Gillette and Sheri Glaser, and their piano-whiz partner, Lawrence Nass.
Calling themselves The Egomaniacks (a naughty name for New Agers, since "ego" is the notorious villain of the spiritual quest) the comedians have combined their talents into something best described as "stand-up acting."
Every Friday and Saturday night through Sept. 13, at a new space called Take One Studios on Kettner Boulevard, these brave souls roll out the "Nickel-Weiner Roadmap" for a performance subtitled, "This Better Be the Right Path Because My Feet Are Killing Me."
The two-hour original comedy is not yet a play, but it is no longer straight improv. There is not enough of Nass' Windham Hill-style piano playing to call it a musical, although the live and taped music enhances the performance.
What "The Nickel-Weiner Roadmap" does display is a collection of marvelous characters, precisely envisioned and performed by Gillette, Glaser and Nass, who mercilessly satirize their New Age targets. But they do it with love.
The three share an ability to bring out the most subtle details of quickly identifiable types, from a wide-eyed precocious 6-year-old (Gillette) to a spunky-saggy grandmother (Glaser) and an up-tight New Age husband (Nass). They trade costumes and roles continuously as the "cast of thousands" becomes evident.
The setting is a tofu-burger barbecue. Most of the people we meet are trapped in the frenzy to better themselves--instantly--trying everything from eating differently to breathing patterns. Frustrated, confused (but they'd never admit it), hilarious in their silly facades, they frequently succumb to self-deceptive placations of the "I'm OK, you're OK" variety.
Middled-aged Miriam Nickel (Gillette) and her friend Bev Weiner (Glaser) trade sticky pleasantries, while Dickie Nickel (Nass) tends the barbecue (with strict instructions to keep the tofu from touching the regular burgers). Poor Dickie is a terrible mass of tension caused by his 6-year-old, a mother who might at any moment decide to go skinny dipping and a suffering sex life that is the topic of much public analysis.
The Egomaniacks occasionally step back in as themselves, breaking up the action with songs about enlightenment that display the troupe's seriousness about the quest for understanding, no matter how much their satire might sting.
Glaser's forte is character details while Gillette has a knack with self-exposure. Nass is very subtle, amusing and doesn't play the piano enough.
What the piece lacks is cohesiveness, the quicker pacing that comes of knowing exactly what destination is to be reached and the polish and discipline an outside director should have provided.
Glaser, Gillette and Nass are at a crossroads: They are highly skilled character actors, reasonably good singers backed by a gifted composer, and good comedians with an excellent sense of subtle, cerebral humor. They are not yet playwrights, although they have obviously reached this doorway.
It would be a crime for them to stop at their present circumstances--too witty to rely on other people's work, but not yet possessed of the perfect showcase for their unique blend of comic acting. Nass said recently that they have decided to take the leap; when the "Nickel-Weiner Roadmap" goes on tour in October, they'll be working from a newly written script, based on input from the current run.
Meanwhile, there are three very innovative performers with some important things to say working very hard in a small upstairs studio on Kettner. The seats are hard, the lighting primitive, but the entertainment is genuine--no preservatives, additives, chemicals or other yucky things to cloud your aura.
"THE NICKEL-WEINER ROADMAP TO ENLIGHTENMENT" Or "This Better Be the Right Path Because My Feet Are Killing Me," written and performed by The Egomaniacks, featuring Sheri Glaser, Lawrence Nass, Margaret Gillette. Direction by Dinah Smith. Lighting by Arnie Madruga and Zonn Niilaagn. Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. through Sept. 13 at Take One Studios, 2400 Kettner Blvd., No. 12, San Diego. For information, call 236-9287.