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'Beakman's' Experiment

Paul Zaloom takes the spirit of his wacky, Emmy-winning TV science show to the stage for U.S. tour starting at Veterans Wadsworth Theater.

January 22, 1998|LYNNE HEFFLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

He's been trapped inside a giant nostril. His hair could have been styled via electric shock. His laboratory is stocked with such necessities as bicycle tires, toasters, lava lamps and bowling trophies, while Lester, his 6-foot-tall lab rat, is the result of a most unfortunate experiment.

When kids want to know why the sky is blue, why cats purr and, of course, why physical phenomena of the socially unacceptable kind occur, Paul Zaloom, the wacky host of CBS' Emmy Award-winning science show "Beakman's World," is the man to ask.

Now fans can see Zaloom, whose hyperkinetic "Beakman" persona suggests a cross between "Seinfeld's" Kramer and a demented "Mr. Wizard," in the premiere of his goofy new stage show, "Paul Zaloom: Beakman Live!" It begins its national tour Sunday at the Veterans Wadsworth Theater, under the auspices of UCLA's Center for the Performing Arts' "Science Day at UCLA."

With scientific method to his madness, Zaloom, whose TV show is a cleverly riotous mix of skewed camera angles, thousands of sound effects and experiments that are often both explosive and gooey, promises similar results in his stage extravaganza.

His motivating philosophy?

"It seems to me that the best way to make the most of the limited time allotted to me on this planet is to be having as much fun as possible at any given moment."

Zaloom's zeal for fun can lead at times to unexpected challenges, as happened on one of his favorite "Beakman" episodes.

In order to demonstrate how nasal mucous prevents germs from entering the body--inspired by an inelegant question from a viewer--a huge nose was constructed, in which, during a crew break, Zaloom got stuck.

"I had a near-death experience in a giant nostril. I couldn't breathe and we had this Hollywood special effects snot that snuck its way into my suit and it was squishing between my toes. It was actually kind of wonderful," he reminisced.

Of the "Beakman" approach, Zaloom explained, "What we're interested in doing is opening the doors. We're not putting the fun in science, we're just letting the fun that's in science out."

The live show, he said, "is sort of a way of bringing the aesthetic of 'Beakman' to a live audience. While it is quite different than what folks see on TV, the spirit of it and the wackiness is of course preserved."

As is his stand-up hair:

"I love it dearly, and I water it twice a week."

Zaloom was not a children's performer when he landed his role in "Beakman's World," which debuted to high praise from educators and children's TV watchdog groups in September 1992, based on the Universal Press Syndicate's newspaper feature, "You Can With Beakman and Jax," by Jok Church.

Zaloom's iconoclastic work for adults, however, as a solo performance artist, a puppeteer (he's a member of Vermont's acclaimed Bread and Puppet Theatre) and a political satirist unquestionably informs the TV show.

In his solo works, which sport such titles as "House of Horror" and "Sick but True," he debunks government documents and skewers social and political happenings, using overhead projection and animating found objects as puppets: back scratchers are members of Congress, trophies are military officers and blenders are Three Mile Island cooling towers.

In the live show premiering Sunday, Zaloom plans to take a bowling ball hanging from the ceiling and have it swing back and forth across the stage to see if it will smash him in the face. "That's going to be a demonstration of the conservation of energy," Zaloom said, deadpan.

He is also going to trick the audience into thinking he's flying and demonstrate persistence of vision with a bat [the mammalian kind] that appears to float in the middle of the stage. He'll conduct a "bat Q&A" with audience volunteers because the toothy little critters are "extremely important to us humans, in terms of reseeding the rain forest after fire or clear-cutting, and insect control, and they pollinate half the tropical fruit in the world."

The audience will have ample opportunities for interaction, some more active than others, Zaloom promised. For instance, "I'm going to get the strongest person in the audience to come up and prevent them from getting out of a chair using my index finger.

"There will be a number of victims, uh, volunteers that I'll get up on stage." And yes, there will be goo, too, he assured. And a sonic boom.

"There's speculation," Zaloom enthused, "that one of the vegetarian dinosaurs had a tail that could move so fast through space that it created a sonic boom."

BE THERE

"Science Day at UCLA, Paul Zaloom: Beakman Live!," Veterans Wadsworth Theater, grounds of the Veterans Administration, Wilshire Boulevard just off the 405 Freeway, Saturday, 2 p.m., $22-$25 (half-price for children age 16 and under). (310) 825-2101.

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