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THEATER

Screeningly funny show

'Screening Party' shows no mercy in skewering awful movies.

August 21, 2003|Andre Chautard | Special to The Times

Dennis Hensley and five friends gather on a recent Friday to affectionately mock movies like "Pretty Woman" and "The Bodyguard."

But on this night Hensley and company aren't lounging around the DVD player in his North Hollywood apartment, as they often do; they're onstage at the Renberg Theatre in West Hollywood, re-creating their cattiest zingers for a paying audience. Still images from the films are projected on the screen behind them as the group delivers lines from open scripts in their hands.

"It's somewhere in between a play and a reading and something else," Hensley says of "Screening Party," which is running on Friday nights through the month. "Somebody described it as 'Mystery Science Theater 3000' meets 'Friends.' "

"Screening Party" is based on Hensley's book of the same name, which grew out of articles he wrote for the now defunct British Premiere magazine.

Hensley would invite friends over for irreverent screening parties of movies beloved or derided, where snarky comments and insider dish were obligatory.

He would record the get-togethers, taking the best comments and embellishing each party into a chapter. Creating characters based on composites of his friends, Hensley tried to capture the vibe of the parties: the movie geek, the smart aleck, the guy with the crazy stories, the aspiring stand-up comic and Dr. Beverly Beaverman, who unfailingly psychoanalyzes the films in sexual terms.

The idea of a live stage version of "Screening Party" came from Hensley's raucous bookstore readings, where he would invite friends to read the lines of the characters in the book.

"I'm so grateful because they just show up," Hensley says of his friends who make up "Screening Party's" cast. "They're always excited to come, and I don't pay them. We just have a laugh."

Many of "Screening Party's" best lines are too graphic to be printed here, but a sampling:

On Bruce Willis saving the world in "Armageddon": "This is a man who can't even save Planet Hollywood." On a scene in "The Bodyguard" where Whitney Houston sits for a hairdresser: "I love the idea that Whitney actually has her hair done while it's on her head."

Author of the comic novel "Misadventures in the (213)," Hensley has been recruiting guest actors to play Dr. Beaverman onstage. Tonight it's Jennifer Tilly, who admits to hosting her own screening parties.

"There are some movies that are so much better if you talk back to the screen," she says. "I had a 'Mommie Dearest' screening party at my house, and I came up with this totally neat stuff." Julie Brown ("Strip Mall") and Griffin are scheduled to play the outrageous character next.

Hensley still hosts screening parties for his friends, "Footloose" being a recent selection. They even made an outing to revel in the widely panned "From Justin to Kelly." He hopes to extend the run of "Screening Party" and is trying to turn the concept into a cable TV show.

During intermission, Tilly and Hensley discuss other films that are ripe for the "Screening Party" treatment.

"It has to be really transcendentally awful," Tilly says.

Hensley coos, "I want to do 'Gigli'!"

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