You see all manner of experimental plays and theatrical performances as a Fringe-festian. But when one comes along with so amoebic a plot that it expands beyond your lens of apprehension, such as Danny Pushkin’s Call Steve Guttenberg does, it’s hard to give a damn.
Bump-tsss. Bump-tsss. Bump-tsss. This self-claimed “Lovecraftian gothic horror” play opens in a strip club? Interesting choice. Oh, that’s just the music playing outside for Fort Fringe bar goers. That’s fine; I’m sure the creative sound work will sufficiently override that bumpin’ beat and the actors will project their voices loud enough to be audible. I mean, we’re all in the same room, right? Except, there is little to no sound editing involved with this production, nor do the actors articulate with any form of confidence.
Phillip Reid is the only exception; his nerdy character is a loud one, and Philip booms his voice to create the only convincing and genuinely humorous performance in the whole play. He rants, he stutters, he sputters, he nervously breaks down, and it’s all for our entertainment.
On the opposite end of the spectrum we have Veronica, apathetically played by Tiffany Michael, who not only refuses to project her voice to anyone other than herself, but delivers her lines with even less enthusiasm than what I harbor for the scatterbrained plot by this point. She plays a more narrative role during certain scene transitions, but instead of driving the story forward, she sort of lets it coast.
Andrew Zimmerman and Dominique Marro fill the middle of this acting quality gradient, and Marro fades towards the unconvincing side with feather-soft line deliveries that invite viewers to lean forward and turn an ear.
Okay, let’s see what details about the nature of this plot we can gather from the remains of these fluttering attempts at auditory perception shot down by each thump of the bass.
Call Steve Guttenberg
by Danny Pushkin
at The Shop – Fort Fringe
607 New York Ave NW
Washington, DC 20001
Details and tickets
The trio scores a commercial deal with a luxury car company, and must come up with $37,000 for the contract. From this straightforward and definitive point, the play simply doesn’t know what it wants to be when it grows up. A comedy? Horror? Drama? Good? Bad?
Scenes with the purpose of placating fans of Lovecraft and 80’s celebrities seek to do that merely through acknowledgement, as if a smirk should grow across your face while you think “heh, only other Lovecraftians would get that reference” or “heh, I’ve seen more films of that actor than anyone at this show.” They mention Steven Guttenberg as a potential for their commercial, but his existence in this play is so brief it’s puzzling why they named it accordingly.
Humor shines when Mr. Reid is involved, but is victim to eye-rolling when the punch line to an otherwise suitably quirky scene is just “you know what? . . . we should do drugs!” Horror elements amount to casting red light on the triad while the Daria-toned Veronica maintains a nonchalant demeanor, as her monologue is drowned out by dance music.
A change in venue would undoubtedly increase the quality of this show, but the poor acting is at the core of the downfall to this somewhat directionless tale. Much of the finer details most likely whooshed over my head due to the constant cacophony created between the music and the performers, but I’d be surprised if my money spent here would amount to an experience more revelatory than spending it on a cover charge to get into a bumpin’ dance club.