KPBS AIRDATE: February 22, 1995
If your humor tends toward the bleak, bizarre or macabre, book yourself a front row seat at the Fritz Theatre. Better yet, get a season ticket. Up now is “Fat Men in Skirts,” which will either delight you or disgust you. Or some of each. But unavoidably, it will make you laugh.
This is the southern California debut of the Nicky Silver play, and it’s a harbinger of irresistible grotesqueries to come. The incisive Silver shines a laser beam on the State of the American Family, where dysfunctional is just a euphemism. Everyone is obsessive here; Howard, a cold, uncaring father, obsessed with making “heartwarming films about lovable extraterrestrials”; Phyllis, obsessed with her son and with shoes; Bishop, obsessed with Katherine Hepburn, his hunger, his mother, her shoes and his anger; and Howard’s mistress, the bimbette Pam, who’s obsessed with fame, pornflicks and drugs. Things can only go downhill from there.
Phyllis and Bishop are marooned on an island, the only survivors of a plane crash. To fill their empty stomachs, they cannibalize their fellow passengers. To fill their empty souls, they indulge in incest. After five years, Bishop has lost his compliance, his virginity, his palsied gait and his stutter. He is perpetually angry, demeaning and dominating his mother by day, and mounting her by night. When they are returned to society, he continues to feed on other people, leaving barefoot bodies strewn all over the city, so he can lay their shoes at his mother’s feet.
Meanwhile, Howard and Pam are living together in truth-telling/lie-telling pseudo-homey unwedded bliss. Pam is pregnant, but hiding from Phyllis and Bishop by living in the closet. Eventually, Bishop knocks off the mistress, his father, and his mother, winding up in a psychiatric facility where his mother appears (to urge him to further destruction), his new shrink resembles his father, and a schizophrenic Pam-lookalike cheerleader adores him because he is a celebrity murderer.
Eventually, Bishop has an epiphany, an echo from act one, and the hellacious mother’s own fleeting realization: Everyone has to take responsibility for their own actions. Yet from Silver’s lyrically cynical perspective, every home is a house of detention, and one family member’s controlling, constraining, self-serving or otherwise unhealthy actions can drag down the whole household.
Director Bryan Bevell has mined this multileveled, nonlinear piece to its core. He’s especially adept at keeping the rich vein of humor shimmering on the surface, while not ignoring the deep, dark, dirty layers underneath. His cast makes the material sparkle: Diane Addis as the addled, coolly vicious mother; Tiffni Jellinek as the long-legged, bubble-brained love interest; Louis Seitchik as the self-obsessed father and Peter James Smith, chilling as the anguished, amoral Bishop, though he would be even more powerful if he seethed more and shouted less. Jeff Benham’s set is miraculous, a real, live plane-crash wreckage, bounded by a red-carpet runway. Just one more contradictory image of “sweet brutality.”
Less sweet, equally brutal, at least verbally, but no less humorous is the Fritz’s late night offering, “Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll.” Louis Seitchik jumps from his dual roles as frigid father and compassionate psychiatrist in “Fat Men” to a sextet of characters from the poison-dipped pen of Eric Bogosian. Seitchik is very talented, though he could use the objective eye of a director. Nonetheless, he achieves satiric perfection with several of his portrayals, reprised from last summer, especially his soulless rock-star, his heartless lawyer, and his amiable, can-collecting street person.
So stick around at the Fritz. This probably won’t be the first time you stayed out late for sex, drugs or rock ‘n’ roll.
I’m Pat Launer, KPBS radio.
©1995 Patté Productions Inc.