Of Mice and Guffman, or Whatever

Steven Tyler of Aerosmith claimed that when he saw Rob Reiner's This Is Spinal Tap, it hit too close to home--he found it tragic. Waiting for Guffman, co-written and directed by and starring Spinal Tap's Christopher Guest, has found a similar place in the hearts of theater people--particularly those who've done time in community theater.

Like Spinal Tap, Guffman--which screens this Friday at Mesa Arts Center--is a pretend documentary, but this time the subject is a troubled community-theater production in a small town. Guest plays Corky, the fey writer-director of a musical extravaganza saluting the sesquicentennial of Blane, Missouri. Corky's cast includes Eugene Levy (who co-scripted) as the town dentist, Fred Willard and Catherine O'Hara as the loathsome cutest couple in town (Corky calls them "the Lunts of Blane"), Parker Posey as the ingenue from Dairy Queen and Lewis Arquette as the wise old-timer, who can really act.

Much of the film is heart-stoppingly funny, but to anyone who has been involved with amateur theater, parts of it can be excruciating. Says Theatre Works managing director Julia Thomson, "I wouldn't be surprised if it's already a cult favorite. I've seen it twice. I think it's hilarious."

But other theater folk are shaken up by the film. "It sends chills through most actors' spines, I think," says Valley actor Bob Sorensen. "Because either we've seen it, or, as directors, we have auditioned it. It hits home at a lot of levels."

Echoing Aerosmith's Tyler, another Phoenix actor, who prefers not to be named, says, "I didn't think it was a comedy. It was a perfect representation of the bilious, egocentric, sun-shines-out-my-ass thing you get in the local theater." Another Valley thespian, likewise nameless, puts it this way: "Corky lives, and he works in Phoenix."

Mesa actor and director James Ward sees the film a bit more sympathetically: "I saw a certain poignancy to it. This company had done so well; the people in this little town thought their show was great. But because they didn't go to this higher level, they were disappointed. They couldn't see that they'd done what every theater company is theoretically trying to do--they'd pleased their audience."

By M. V. Moorhead

Waiting for Guffman screens as part of "MAC Movies 4" at 7 p.m. Friday, March 20, in Room 3 of Mesa Arts Center, 155 North Center. Admission is a suggested donation of $2. 644-2242.

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M.V. Moorhead
Contact: M.V. Moorhead