nytheatre.com review by Richard Hinojosa
September 27, 2008
Hysterical Dementia describes itself as "character-driven variety show." One thing is for certain, it is character-driven. The performers on the night I attended were clearly all characters, on and off the stage. It's the variety part that does not deliver.
The show's host, Steve Bird, is a veteran of downtown performance. This show has a very raw and impulsive attitude throughout. The performers have no qualms about breaking character and talking to us off the cuff. They tell a random story or remove pieces of their costume in the middle of their performance. The show is fun in that no one is really trying too hard to impress anyone, they are simply throwing their material out there and seeing what sticks.
Bird opens the show and goes on between each of the three acts. He begins with a bashful clown bit in which he shuffles along the back wall terrified by our gaze until he finally breaks out of his shell and does a silly little spin and bow. He re-enters and delivers some of his "in-the-moment" stand up. He insists on never having a polished "product" so he chats with us about his 12-step program and the French-Canadian clown class he recently took. His material is somewhat interesting and funny but it never really goes anywhere and he tends to go on a bit too long. My absolute favorite part of the show was something he actually had sort-of prepared. It's a letter he reads from June Cleaver (of Leave It To Beaver) to infamous beat writer William S. Burroughs. It starts off very innocuous but soon degenerates into a angry, depraved, and painful declaration of all her sorrows.
The first performer, John Murdock, comes with his gravely-voiced standup about being a naughty balloon twister at Lucky Chang's. He tells some very funny stories about putting balloon penises or vaginas on the heads of bachelorettes. Murdock has an appealing, and seemingly essential these-days-life-is-shit-but-I'm-getting-by style. He also has some great material about working as a tour guide on one of those double-decker busses. Murdock is good. I'd go see him again.
The next performer is Shecky Beagleman. Shecky enters wearing an ugly, stained bathrobe over her street clothes. The reason for the robe is baffling. At first, I thought Shecky just likes to wear her old bathrobe as a lucky costume piece because she never does anything with it during her stand up routine other than open it so a guy in the audience can take a Polaroid of her exposed bra. Shecky tells us a story about being cast in a bit role in Lipstick Jungle. The story is interesting and occasionally funny but it doesn't go anywhere. Eventually Steve just asks her to stop talking. I wasn't that crazy about her material but I did find her character very intriguing. She is fearless and plows through her material with the confidence of an old pro.
The final performer of the night is David Leopold who enters as Vera Czymilitude. Vera is a drag queen draped in a ripped white blanket, a gypsy scarf on her head and cameo brooch tying it all together. She sings a quirky tune along with a video of a girl playing piano that is projected behind her. I didn't get much of the song but it was entertaining to watch Vera do her thing. She sheds her head scarf at the end of the song and then settles into a brief but very funny story about the signs of a true addict.
The coda of the show is bizarre and grotesque. David sets up Shecky as Momma Luigi, a grumpy, screamy Italian woman (here's where the robe comes in) with a wooden spoon with which she assaults the audience. She eventually calls out her daughter, Celestina, who dances a strange ballet scantily clad in clothes way too small for a girl of her size. I literally had to look away. It was like train-wreck pornography, I kept looking back but instantly had to turn away again.
The show is certainly entertaining but I wanted more variety in the acts. Perhaps Bird's future shows will deliver a true variety.