IF YOU GO
What: One-man show based on the an American writer's experience creating a musical version of "Desperately Seeking Susan"
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 2
Where: Foulds Theater at the Lee County Alliance of the Arts complex, 10091 McGregor Boulevard, Fort Myers
Information: 239-936-3239 or theatreconspiracy.org
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Once upon a time, in a decade gone by, a cheeky American with three names crossed the pond to London.
His name was Peter Michael Marino.
He was writing a musical.
Not just any musical. One based on "Desperately Seeking Susan."
The world was his oyster.
Until jolly old England stole his pearl.
"Desperately Seeking Susan" didn't just bomb. It flamed out in the spectacular fashion reserved for disasters of the Hindenburg variety. Marino himself describes the process of working on his own show as: "each rehearsal was like watching a brand-new trainwreck."
London theater critics eviscerated "Desperately Seeking Susan." The show posted closing notices just 13 days after it opened. Marino flew back to Queens and didn't come out of his apartment much for the better part of a year.
He's better now. Much better. Marino can laugh about Angus and Andy, the director and choreographer, respectively, of "Desperately Seeking Susan." He makes other people laugh too, with his one-man show "Desperately Seeking the Exit," a first-person take on his journey through hell and up the Thames during "Susan."
The man can tell a story. As a journalist, we lots of "stories" each day - and Marino sells his hilarious 70-minute disaster diary better than most. "Desperately Seeking the Exit," its title taken from the most scathing of the London reviews, has drama, comedy, music, liquor, dancing, robots, multiple four-letter obscenities, Vegemite, a copious amount of British slang and references body parts seldom seen in public,!
"Desperately Seeking the Exit" races through the period in Marino's life where he conceived and worked on the musical. We see the bong rips that characterize the show's birth ("INHAAAALE" - "That's a good idea, man"). And agononize over finding the perfect Blondie song for each character. The show brings laughter, a solid dose of comedy and knowing head-shakes from anyone who's ever had anything to do with theater.
Marino steers the show away from "bitter invective" and toward light-hearted reminiscence. He carefully avoids speaking real ill of any collaborators, including Deborah Harry, some unnamed producers and the show's director and choreographer. Much of the interpersonal drama - "The choreographer was in one room making all the small moments big. The director was in the other room making all the big moments small!" - is used as comedic effect.
These touches keep the show breezy, littered with laughs and a satisfying viewing experience. Director John Clancy also deserves credit for much of the show's pace and staging. The hyperactive Marino manages to hold the Alliance for the Arts stage all by himself. I love the small touches in the show, like Marino's Union Jack bandana and shades, the Godzilla tee and Magners cider.
Clancy and Marino vary the pace well, unspooling the anecdotes with a sure hand. One prop turns out to be a replica '80s boom box with space for an iPod. Very little can go wrong with Blondie on the speakers. Marino also uses a simple stool to good effect - sitting, standing, leaning. There's always motion - but not the affected motion too common in some single-person shows. This is like watching one of your "what did you do now?" friends tell you about their worst night ever - if said night involved Madonna, Debbie Harry, hemorrhoids, lots of tea & tequila and way too many British people.
Britain's endless contradictions and eternally repressed populace gets most of the barbs. Marino spent two years and a visit to National Health before he realized what the Limeys were talking about with "Yes," "No" and "Cheers." Ditto for cigarettes, for which Briton's have a particularly interesting slang term.
Perhaps the best, "Desperately Seeking the Exit" actually achieves closure for the author and the show. Marino gets a little less animated as he approaches the show's nadir - the withering reviews for "Susan" and his year-long depression. A wry tone takes over; there's a forced gaiety - and audiences realize the very real therapeutic effect of "Desperately Seeking the Exit."
And that's where the Japanese come in. "Desperately Seeking Susan" finds a happy ending after all. The director was named G2. He made Tokyo exult before his feet.
Marino found a happy ending too. He's taking "Desperately Seeking the Exit" back to London later this spring. By May, his one-man show about the failure of "Desperately Seeking Susan" will have run longer than the flop that inspired it.
Did you like the original "Desperately Seeking Susan?" Email me, firstname.lastname@example.org, find me on Twitter at @napleschris or read my Stage Door theater blog. You can also sign up to receive the Stage Door blog via email.