Bitter Drapes

According to Scott Hopkins, the decline of American culture began in the theater. The union of art and commerce has led to what the actor/playwright refers to as "crashing chandeliers and puppet shows disguised as musical theater," an artless franchise in which has-been television stars revive their careers in road companies of Grease.

Not content to sit around at cast parties grumping about the disintegration of intelligent entertainment, Hopkins has hammered out a play about it. You've No Business Near Show Business, directed by local big-shot actor Nicolas Glaeser, scolds the corrupt crowds who go to "dumb shows like Cats," and the money-minded men who make them.

Part self-serving showcase, part spleen-venting satire, Show Business is an acerbic and often-funny indictment of the entertainment industry that played a handful of performances here last May. Word of mouth on the program was positive but came too late, and audiences discovered the show just as it was closing. Its current three-week run precedes a San Francisco engagement that Hopkins hopes will play to a more sophisticated audience than he expects to find here.

"You have to have a little more of an attention span to sit through my show," huffs Hopkins. "Plus a knowledge of theater that I don't think a lot of people have here."

Our town's lack of culture is among Hopkins' favorite subjects. The Toledo native moved to Phoenix four years ago, where he's found mostly supporting roles and a whole lot to carp about. Many of his opinions begin with the phrase "Theater in Phoenix . . ." and end with an acrid appraisal of the Valley's cultural shortcomings.

He's aired many of his grievances in You've No Business Near Show Business. The characters, all portrayed by Hopkins, are related in one way or another to the performing arts. In a series of quick, clever sketches, a troubled thespian attends a meeting of Actors Anonymous; a surly scalper accosts strangers outside a New York playhouse (and forces a customer to apologize for calling him a thief); a theater patron yammers on a cell phone throughout a performance of the very show we're watching; and a scary stage father badgers a casting director about the peculiar talents of his unfortunate charge.

"You're either going to get it or you're not," says Hopkins of material that sometimes relies on show-biz in-jokes for laughs. "I'm writing for an audience that wants to be challenged, doesn't mind being offended, and can take a joke that might be aimed at them." The audience he's looking for, Hopkins admits, probably isn't here.

So why is Show Business playing Phoenix? Partly, one suspects, so that Hopkins can showcase his ample talents for local casting directors (though why the actor wants to work in a town he thinks is full of plebes remains a mystery). Hopkins has drawn characters who sing, speak with funny accents, read dramatic monologues and play broad comedy. It's all very entertaining, though it may not lead to much future work for its actor-author.

"The few theater people who bothered to come see the show seemed to like it," Hopkins says. "But only one casting director came. And I heard that someone from the film commission was there, for whatever that's worth."

Theater gossip -- and not apathy -- may have kept Hopkins' colleagues away. "I was going to go, but someone told me that he was just making fun of all the people who never hired him," reports one local thespian. "Look, it's hard enough to keep your head up in this business without eating someone else's sour grapes. I stayed home."

Hopkins, too, wonders if he hasn't shot himself in the foot. The show opens with a goofy curtain speech by a fictional artistic director who -- according to rumor -- is based on Actors Theatre of Phoenix's Matthew Wiener. It closes with an amusing skit in which a theater critic -- based, Hopkins says, on yours truly -- is bullied into giving the show a good review.

Potentially pissing off colleagues and critics was a risk worth taking, Hopkins insists. "I got to the point where I had to take chances, I had to say what I felt. There's a lot of hypocrisy in this business, where people say whatever they need to say to get a job. I didn't want to end up like that."

It may be too late. While Hopkins claims he's forsaken local auditions "because my heart just isn't in it, and there aren't any shows here I want to play," he later mentions the Phoenix Theatre auditions he's planning to attend this week.

"I'd like to be cast in their production of Twigs," he says, "and I'd really like to work for Michael Barnard," a local director.

Whether his heady -- and ultimately entertaining -- one-man show contradicts its author's agenda is apparently unimportant. "People can say what they want about me or the show," Hopkins insists. "But no one can say the show is stupid. I worked my butt off to make sure that it isn't that."

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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela