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VALLEY WEEKEND

Four Postmen Put the Emphasis on Delivery

The former CSUN drama students have created a zany act that's part farce, part concert. Their dream is to deliver their message via sitcom.

May 23, 1996|ROBIN RAUZI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It's after 11 on Saturday night on Hollywood's Theatre Row--about the time that theatergoers shuffle back to their cars and streetwalkers start to dot the corners. On the stage of the Hudson Theatre, three men in U.S. Postal Service uniforms (summer variety) are singing, in lush harmony: "The hills are alive . . . which is really creepy. . . ."

Yet to come: Postman #1 singing a solo, wearing nothing but his guitar; Postman #2 pounding his chest in slow motion; Postman #3 taking batting practice with heads of lettuce; and many manic songs with titles like "Rabbit Valley" and "Four Years of High School Spanish."

Leaving the theater, the question isn't so much who are the Four Postmen, but what are the Four Postmen?

The answer begins at Cal State Northridge, circa 1989, where the Four Postmen--Ken Weiler, Matthew Kaminsky and Stefan Marks (yes, you're counting right)--were undergraduates in the theater department. Inspired by uniforms hanging in the theater costume shop, Marks set out to write a play called "The Four Postmen." He never finished it, but an idea stuck: a musical group named in the tradition of the Four Tops, the Four Seasons or the Four Lads--with only three members.

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By 1992, Weiler had become a regular performer at The Comedy Store and also was working the coffeehouse circuit playing guitar and singing naughty ditties. Bored, he invited Marks and Kaminsky along for an acoustic set at the Palomino in North Hollywood. They donned uniforms and the Four Postmen were actualized.

They built a loyal following playing comedy clubs and college campuses, coffeehouses and rocker bars. It takes brave men to play the Roxy in blue shorts, white socks and black shoes. "We played many places where we thought we'd be killed," said Weiler, a.k.a. Postman #1.

Later, they wanted to add a drummer--but didn't want a fourth Postman. So Geoff Dunbar became "The Dog." When they faced a similar dilemma with a bassist, Brett Pearsons became "The Bone." Every dog needs a bone, right?

Sure. Whatever.

On weeknights, the group rehearses in Kaminsky's garage, which may well be the nicest garage in all of Van Nuys--completely finished with closets, wall-to-wall carpet and a sofa. They sit in a circle and read through their 90-minute show, noting any changes. This is as close as they will get to a dress rehearsal--which means performances can get frenzied.

"I'm ashamed to admit it," said Marks of one performance, "but I walked off stage and I had no idea what building I was in, let alone what scene was next."

The self-titled show at the Hudson--Saturdays at 11 p.m. through June 1--is part farce, part concert. A loose plot takes the Four Postmen--"the world's greatest rock group"--through the week leading up to "the big show at the Hudson." They live together with the mute Dog and the Bone, a floundering wannabe superhero. TV Guide might sum it up: #2 deals with a crazed fan while #1 contemplates going solo.

If it sounds like a sitcom, well, it may someday be one. NBC Studios offered the Postmen a development deal in January, while the group was running a mock-concert show at Company of Angels Theater in Silver Lake. Development is the long and sometimes arduous process of creating a TV series--or at least, the concept for a series.

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The Postmen's agent, Michelle Grant, negotiated the Hudson show into the deal with NBC Studios so the group could work more on their nonmusical interaction. Grant, who runs a theatrical and literary agency in New York, first saw Weiler perform solo, and then came to Los Angeles to meet the other Postmen.

"I thought they were so adorable," Grant said. "I met the rest of the band in L.A. in a restaurant, having only heard their music on tape. After sitting there for 10 minutes, watching them play off each other . . . I knew they were a television show, even without the music."

Adorable? Maybe. But there's a dark undercurrent to the addictively upbeat Postmen tunes. The lyrics to "Lost Vegas," for example, start with a father's heart attack and a mother's brain aneurysm. Then there's the narcissistic anthem "I'm Gonna Die" that begins, "I'm gonna die / You're gonna too." And suffice to say, the hilariously inane "Rabbit Valley" ends with a big gun.

Marks, who writes "about 92%" of the Postmen songs, dismisses the suggestion of a death subtext--or, really, any subtext--to the show. Of course, the group did indicate that the characters came out of their real personalities--and Marks plays the crazed and hostile #3.

"Matt does the harmonies; Ken writes great guitar stuff; Brett figures out bass. Every one of the other guys in the group is more musically gifted," Marks said. "That's why I write all the songs. Otherwise they might not let me be in there. I'm the Pete Best of The Four Postman," he said referring to the Beatles' pre-Ringo drummer.

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