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VALLEY WEEKEND | THEATER REVIEW

'The Drunkard' a Sendup That Pushes Camp Over the Line

'The Drunk' mixes up the terrible stuff it's spoofing and the equally awful that is its own doing.

July 18, 1996|ROBERT KOEHLER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Everybody is flocking to Hollywood movies, even though Hollywood is the place--next to Washington, D.C.--most likely to be crowned America's corruption capital. Dailey Pike's daffy new musical melodrama, "The Drunk," at Chandler Studio Theatre, plays off the cliche of the agent as evil Svengali/Sen. Mark Hatfield, and throws in an avalanche of cliches right behind it.

So many, in fact, that it becomes a camp sendup of campiness, a nutso hall of mirrors of (deliberately) bad jokes, spoofing and (not so deliberately) bad singing. It's impossible to draw the line between the terrible stuff Pike and company are making fun of, and the terrible stuff that is the show's own doing.

The show is itself based on dreck, which explains a lot. This 19th century pop dreck, to be exact, is called "The Drunkard," an 1844 melodrama about the evils of drinking that had a 20-year Depression-to-Cold War run at the Masquer's in Hollywood.

I never met anyone who ever saw "The Drunkard" who actually liked it. One critic said its only value was to remind us that bad pop culture was much worse in the 19th century than the 20th.

Pike makes use of it the only way you can. He turns it into a camp comic book morality tale. He changes the damsel in distress into a struggling, pie-in-the-sky actress. He turns her beau into a screenwriter who is ripped off by the bad guy, who knows how to steal credits and inflate the price of his stolen script. What else is an agent for?

The setup is nearly picture perfect under Michael Holmes' direction. Sage Kirkpatrick is pure perkiness as Marie the Val Girl thespian, a ripe target for evil. Pike's agent Wallace comes on oozing enough charisma to fill the tiny Chandler, which is exactly how Wallace wins friends and influences people before screwing them over.

Addison Parker pours on the milky-white goodness of beau Eddie until it's almost sickening--which is right in the melodrama style. John Beckman keeps things at a lower and funnier tone as fat-headed studio mogul Mickey Blowit. Only Bonnie Kalisher's Mrs. Wilson, Marie's doting mom, mars the spoofing tone early on with botched lines.

And early on, Pike's songs have a nutty, obsessive quality--all blues, all vaguely sounding alike, but short enough to avoid the hook. (Music director Cengiz Yaltkaya's live trio gives them the right cheesy quality.)

In the old style of "The Drunkard," as well as British music hall shows, the audience is asked to join in on "Blues Danube," sung wittily by Kalisher to Kirkpatrick, with one line--"You can't fool your mom"--sung over and over to Johann Strauss' "Blue Danube Waltz."

This is infectious fun, and then something weird happens: The blues tunes become gratingly repetitive. And instead of updating the old melodrama's sin of drunkenness into drug abuse, Pike just has Eddie get drunk. (Has Pike never heard of Don Simpson?) It drags the giddy, campy feeling down, and Parker lacks the comic tools to tweak this mock-tragedy.

And when Marie is signed by Wallace to star in the movie based on Eddie's ripped-off script, she gives up her waitress-cum-cabaret gig to her mom, who does two numbers that are so long it's easy to forget we're in the middle of another story. Kalisher is a trouper, but her showcase here feels like padding.

Beckman finally gets things back on track at the end, with a loopy drag number that suggests how much fun this "Drunk" could be if it would just zero in on what counts, and toss out the rest.

DETAILS

* WHAT: "The Drunk."

* WHERE: Chandler Studio Theatre, 12443 Chandler Blvd., North Hollywood.

* WHEN: 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays. 7 p.m. Sundays.

* HOW MUCH: $10-$12.50.

* CALL: (818) 409-9950.

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