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Not camera-shy

`Slideshow' presenters mix edgy entertainment with insight at the anything-goes monthly performances.

June 21, 2007|Liane Bonin | Special to The Times

IF you're old enough, you just might remember the days when Dad would fire up the old 1974 Kodak Carousel slide projector in the den, Mom would pass around the Fanta, and you'd join your brothers and sisters, elbow-deep in shag carpet, for a family nostalgia trip.

Now imagine how much better it would have been if, instead of reminiscing over vacations past, the entertainment consisted of torrid tales of Internet dating gone wrong, the saga of a honeymoon plagued with constipation and hurricanes, and maybe a love song about falling for a transsexual. Oh, and instead of Fanta, there was beer in the fridge. That is "Slideshow" -- the next edition of which is Friday night.

Created by Steve Silverman, the now-monthly show began in October 2005 when the theater producer and performer discovered he wasn't the only one with fond memories of burnt bulbs and long-winded yarns. "I did a one-man show that incorporated slides," he says. "People liked the show, but they loved the slides. It just connected. There's something about getting that visual so you know the person isn't embellishing. One of my favorite slides is my aunt wearing her wedding gown to my sister's bat mitzvah. You see that, and you say, 'Oh, my God, he wasn't kidding.' "

After pitching his slide-show idea to Fake Gallery owner Paul Kozlowski (also a "Slideshow" regular), Silverman got ahold of a slide projector, recruited a short list of friends to perform (contributors have included "Little House on the Prairie" star Alison Arngrim and "Reba's" Melissa Peterman), and stocked the fridge in the back of the gallery with free booze ("to make it feel like you're in your own living room," he says).

A 10-minute limit and a fleeting mention of the month's theme were his only rules, more suggested than enforced.

Initially, stories tended toward the obvious choice: family history. "Everyone loves nostalgia," says regular contributor Danny Casillas. "My first slideshow was the story of how my father sold me a dead parrot. I didn't realize how personal it would get, but the audience really seemed to relate to it. Everyone has a dead parrot in their past, so to speak."

Though "dead parrot" stories still pop up, the show has grown into an experimental adolescence. At a recent performance, topics included conflicted motherhood, jailbird siblings and a visit to the Icelandic Phallological Museum.

"The show has a safe-looking face to it, and it's anything but that," Silverman says with a laugh. "I love it when people are expecting us to take them on old family vacations but instead it's about all the dysfunctionality of our lives."

That doesn't always stop with the storytelling. The flammable combination of an anything-goes rule book, the intimacy of the venue and, of course, the hooch can be downright magical, uncomfortable or anarchic. When a projector bulb burned out halfway through the show one night, a performer invited the audience out for ice cream ("It was 'Slideshow' out of control," Silverman says and groans).

Performers have brought the house down with shockingly honest stories but have also rambled well past the time limit, cried on stage and, on occasion, stunk up the joint.

"Some people do try to work from a script or perform in character, and they never seem to do well," says longtime contributor Stacy McQueen. "The audience turns on them immediately. When people try too hard, it really shows. But when they get on the stage and share something real, the audience can feel that."

IT'S no surprise, then, that Hollywood is already trying to capture the show's shaggy, off-the-cuff sincerity in a bottle.

Silverman recently shot a pilot for a "Slideshow" TV series with producers Nely Galan ("The Swan") and Vin Di Bona ("America's Funniest Home Videos").

"There is a bigger game plan," Silverman says, adding that a friend wants to launch "Slideshow" in Chicago.

Bigger isn't always better, of course, and it's hard to imagine "Slideshow" confined to the limitations of the small screen. But the guy who grew up loving the "good burning smell" of the bulb in his dad's slide projector thinks his brand of low-tech storytelling may be a welcome salve for the plugged-in and burnt-out. "I love it when people say, 'I feel like you guys are my friends,' " he says. "It goes back to that sense of community that we've lost in this country. Going back to the safety of our childhood is what people love, and we deliver that for them."

weekend@latimes.com

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`Slideshow'

What: Featuring Danny Casillas, Victoria Delaney, Gina Garcia, Gerry Katzman, Paul Kozlowski, Bridget Oberlin, Terri Simmons, Chuck Sloan and Steve Silverman

Where: Fake Gallery, 4319 Melrose Ave., Hollywood

When: 8 and 11 p.m. Friday

Price: $10, cash only; free wine, beer and soda

Info: (323) 692-3086, fakedotcom.com

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