Theatre Review: ‘I Don’t Want a Surprise Party, Because I Wouldn’t Be Prepared by That’ – Clay Aikin

review

Eat Their Words: Sex, Marriage, and Sometimes Love, curated and directed by Philip blue owl Hooser. Produced by the Fishtank Performance Studio (Kansas City). Copyright 2011. (Seen January 7, 2011.)

I must admit: I wasn’t quite sure what I was getting into when I decided to take in the Fishtank’s Eat Their Words. I had barely perused the Facebook invite — and just knew it was a show with lots of names I recognized from the theatre community that sounded like a lot of fun in a performance space I’d not had the time to check out yet.

What followed were 17 excerpts from celebrity biographies — everything from Jane Fonda to Tiger Woods — read by a plethora of local actors (‘curated’, as he said at the show, by Philip blue owl Hooser). All readings were word for word what was in the book, and therein lay the comedy.

My biggest complaint on this production was the length of the show. It ended up being three hours long — and did NOT include an intermission — which means I was sore and tired by the end (starting at 9 pm didn’t help). And they even admitted to have dropped Celine Dion’s biography. However, for the most part, Hooser could have easily stripped one or two pages from each one of the individual readings and still got the point across (and probably could’ve dropped the reading from Janet Henry’s autobiography altogether). Especially on the earlier ones, the joke got old after a page or two: although Bess Wallerstein’s ‘eagerness’ to act out the exercising of the sex muscle during Jane Fonda’s — the second of the evening — did make the joke last a bit longer.

In fact, it was the readings that made or broke whether the individual segments were entertaining or not. Patricia Rusconi was probably the least productive of these — in her first reading (a co-reading of Britney Spears’ Heart to Heart co-written with Lynne Spears), she was obviously nervous and did what I tend to do when I get nervous — she sped up, fumbling the reading like it was a foreign language. (The nervousness didn’t much subside by the time her second reading came around, either.)

But David Wayne Reed’s reading of Tiger Woods’ autobiography about golfing made the excerpt about keeping the eye on the ball and hole and cocking the head showed that the humor was ALL about interpretation. (Actually, Reed stole the show in each of his readings.)

I think my second favorite was a co-reading from Hooser and Pete Bakely of David Cassidy’s two autobiographies, one written several years before the other, both excerpts relating to his relationship with co-star Susan Dey. Up until a point, the two read together word-for-word. And then, Hooser (reading from the earlier of the two) went off into a description of the eventual (extremely awkward on Cassidy’s side, at least) one-night stand the two actors had. When Bakely’s turn came about, the ‘I’m not sure what happened’ section he read was all the more funny.

Lisa Cordes managed to raise my hackles a bit by the blithe assumption that since I wasn’t born before 1973 (I was born in ’74, if anyone cares), I would automatically not know who Anita Bryant was. I will admit I couldn’t at the moment remember WHY I knew her, but I did recognize the name. I’ve dealt with that all my life, with people assuming that I wouldn’t know older musicals/movies (‘you won’t know The Maltese Falcon — you’re too young’) or not knowing older music (‘you won’t know the Coasters — you’re too young’) just because of my age. I’m hoping, though, she didn’t mean to come off as superiorly arrogant as it felt and it was just me getting cranky at the lateness of the hour.

Hooser saved the best for last. A catch-all reading of Debbie Reynolds, Eddie Fisher, Carrie Fisher, Elizabeth Taylor, and Richard Burton (he didn’t write a book), all revolving around the scandal of Eddie’s marring Debbie, then wanting to go after Taylor, only to have Taylor drop him for Burton (with some other issues wrapped up in it). This easily could have been its own showcase, and made the three hour run-time almost worth it. Wallerstein, with an awesome display of (I assume costume) jewelry (where in the heck did she get an adult-sized tiara? The only ones I see are for little girls playing ‘pretty, pretty princess’!), was in a constant one-up with Reed’s Eddie Fisher, and it was at this point that it felt like what it probably was: just a bunch of actors sitting around having fun and being silly. I suddenly wasn’t at a show anymore, but at a party with a bunch of theatre friends (some I knew, some I didn’t) as they sat around and shared the absurdity of celebrity biographies.

While there were definite parts that went on too long and weren’t that funny, for my first outing at the Fishtank (and my first outing of 2011), I felt it was worth the price I paid. I look forward to future outings there.

  • Philip blue owl Hooser

    Thanks for the review!

    Yeah, I had no idea it would be so long… it wasn’t when I read them to myself! So sorry about that.There will be shorter, more pointed ones to come!

    Oh, and Celine Dion was the only one I mentioned that we cut, just the most obvious one; her heart is not the only thing that goes on and on…

    • Well, as I said via Facebook – I wasn’t upset about the time as much as that it was that long without a break. Had we gotten a short stretch/intermission halfway through, I probably would’ve been fine. Thanks for the comment!