Completely Blah (Unabridged)

A traffic cop yelled at me on my way into the theater the other night. He blew his whistle and shouted at me because I was crossing against the light on one of the several hundred streets that have been rendered useless by the light-rail project. I don't think police officers should be allowed to wear shorts when they're working or to yell at jaywalkers who have just paid $8 to park a quarter-mile away from their destination. But this one did, even though there was no traffic anywhere near me and my empty crosswalk, which set the tone for what would turn out to be an evening bursting with petty annoyances and one pretty crummy play.

Dreary theater causes me to fidget, and sometime during the first act of this cacophonous "comedy," I dropped my car keys into the hollow floor under my theater seat. Retrieving them after the show necessitated the dismantling of a large portion of the Herberger Stage West, for which I apologize to the management. After I got my keys back, we headed to Fate, which serves the most amazing coconut curry tofu but which also plays really loud disco music all the time. We asked for a table in the quiet room, but they've renovated since we'd been there last, and the quiet room is now a restroom, so we left. We tried Carly's, but the music there was even louder and it really sucked. We wound up at My Florist, which we realized too late was hosting the cast party for the show we'd just seen. I'd rather choke to death on my own vomit than be within 70 feet of a cast party, but at that point we were out of options, so we sat down, as far from the table of theater people as we could get, which placed us right next to the most obnoxious people in the restaurant. To our right was a table of drunken morons who shrieked nonstop at the top of their lungs about a porn movie they'd seen; to our left was a better-than-middle-aged couple who spent the whole hour we were there making out like horny teens.

Somewhere between the loss of my car keys and the old people necking, I saw a perfectly ho-hum play called Completely Hollywood (abridged). It claimed to be a comedy, although I barely cracked a smile all night — and not because of the mishaps prior to and after the show. My opinion of this energetic tribute to Tinseltown had more to do with its banal attempts at humor and its stale structure than anything that came before curtain. Act One is structured as a 12-Step program, because apparently Americans are all addicted to movies and must be cured. Much of the rest of the audience graduated from this recovery program bent over double laughing, but all I had was the beginnings of a headache.

The material, brought to frantic life by two of its authors and actor Jerry Kernion, doesn't lack originality so much as it relies on the same sort of hokey shtick that drives improv routines; the result is a show that — even if you haven't just been gouged for a parking spot next to an open sewer — is as boring as tennis pro Ivan Lendl, who turns up in Act Two as the star of an overlong and utterly baffling spoof of Hollywood artificiality.

About halfway through that second act, the authors run out of standup-comic material and resort to the dreaded crutch of audience participation, which on opening night meant having to watch local publisher Robert Sentinery in a pair of plaid golf pants running around the stage while actors shouted stage direction at him. Poor Bob — and poor me, who had to sit through two more audience-participation sketches immediately after this. After an interminable Western spoof, the curtain finally rang down, and we — the audience, weak from laughing at tired old jokes, and I, exhausted by two hours of ordinariness — were free to return to our cinematic addictions. And the additional annoyances of late-night downtown Phoenix.

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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