“ THE ROAD TO NIRVANA ” at the Fritz Theatre
KPBS AIRDATE: November 12, 1997
In my opinion, playwright David Mamet often deserves a swift kick in the pants, and Arthur Kopit, himself a celebrated playwright, has moved his foot in that direction.
“The Road to Nirvana” is Kopit’s 1990 answer to Mamet’s 1988 “Speed-the-Plow.” In fact, Kopit’s early title for his sendup was “Bone-the-Fish,” a much funnier moniker than the one he ultimately settled on, though that also drips with sarcasm, since the rock star in his play is named Nirvana, and Mamet unwisely used Madonna in his Broadway production of “Speed-the-Plow.” So maybe Madonna and Nirvana are mixed religious metaphors, but who’s keeping track? In Kopit’s play, the crazed rock star has an Egyptian crypt reconstructed in her basement. Go figure.
Anyway, this is a satire of a satire. A garish exaggeration of a garish exaggeration –though some say it’s not possible to exaggerate the cold-blooded greed and barbaric ruthlessness of the Hollywood film business. Nevertheless, Kopit has managed to out-Mamet Mamet, nailing his rat-a-tat rhythms and overuse of four-letter words. And he’s trained on the same, easy-but-irresistible target.
Both plays concern the art, if you wanna call it that, of the movie deal: that is, no one trusts anyone, and everyone’s out to out-maneuver everyone else. As my neighbor Shirley Feldman once put it, “In this world, it’s screw or be screwed.”
Kopit goes even further. He dares to make a literal interpretation of Hollywood clichés like: ‘I’d give my left nut to be working on that project.’ I don’t want to give away too much, cause there are some surprises, gasps and laughs along the way. Suffice it to say that this is more cutthroat and brutal than you could possibly imagine — and all for some ridiculous, cockamamie movie about a rock star whose brain is so drug-fried, she thinks Moby Dick is her life story, with the whale recast as a giant penis. Don’t even ask. It gets crazier.
You can be sure that nobody comes out looking good or even semi-human here, but that’s kinda the point. And man, is it ever hammered home. All in all, it’s a bit of a battering experience, but it’s intended to be.
It’s loud, frenetic and ferocious. Lou Seitchik gets better as his hateful character gets worse, and as his reinstated flunky, Chris White gives his best performance ever. Melissa Supera’s Lou is, in true Mamet style, an enigmatic and insufficiently realized female, and Supera frankly doesn’t look the part of a blood-sucking Tinseltown bimbette. Laura Arnold gives dimension to the flaky, ball-busting Nirvana, who sings like the Material Girl but lives the reclusive paranoia of The Gloved One.
Director Maria Mangiavellano has given this vicious parody just the right satirical spin; in fact, your head may be spinning when you leave the theater. Makes you kinda happy to go home to your nice, un-rich, un-famous lifestyle.
I’m Pat Launer, KPBS radio.
©1997 Patté Productions Inc.