|John Fisher, Donald Currie & Daniel Chung|
As a noun, ‘flim-flam’ means “deceptive nonsense;” and as a verb, “swindle with a confidence game.” According to his program notes, John Fisher in September 2016 clearly had a certain, orange-haired politician-of-sorts in mind as he got the idea to write a farce about America and what it might look like in a few years if, G-d forbid, that master of flim-flam should win the presidency. The Artistic Director of Theatre Rhinoceros and a prolific playwright who has won several local awards for his past world premieres was all too clairvoyant; and now we have his Trump America and the world premiere play he quickly penned this autumn holding its initial staging at Theatre Rhinoceros. While not ‘deceptive,’ unfortunately the ‘nonsense’ part of this Flim-Flam is much too ridiculous at times to be very funny with a script that clearly needed more seasoning and editing before debuting on the stage.
Aaron (John Fisher) and Endin (Daniel Chung) are two waiters and would-be actors whose careers are going nowhere fast beyond serving tables. They get persuaded that film is in their future by a producer/director, Harrible “the Terrible” Jones (Kevin Copps) -- mostly it seems because of Endin’s cute body and not at all for the older, more talented acting abilities (or so he believes) of Aaron. They fall into the show’s first flim-flam and end up filming a to-be hit for Porn Hub – but only after taking huge doses of a vitamin supplement that (of course) turns out to be Viagra on steroids (resulting in, you guessed it, days-long erections).
Laughing yet? Even with body pumping, shadow-play love scenes, the excitement and laughter generated is fairly minimal (especially when the acting and the sudden mid-body protrusions look more like ad-lib than they should for a fully staged play).
Because the two showed “willingness to embarrass yourselves ... with no personal dignity,” the next flim-flam master, Dobbins Del Ray (Donald Currie), arrives on the scene, touting to Aaron and Endin that “great acting always resides in closest proximity to embarrassment.” He convinces them that somewhere in the middle parts of America there lies a small town where they could go and teach acting to unsuspecting souls (think Music Man). Off they go on a bumpy bus odyssey to find that fertile ground for their trickery. The three actors also want a place where they can play parts from Lear, Henry V, and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? to crowds of the uninitiated (and thus those who may not judge harshly their lack of acting skills).
The cast members assembled for this premiere (the above mentioned plus Krystle Piamonte and Jesse Vaughn, each playing multiple parts) enthusiastically give it their all as they wander through the many short scenes and the often overly fantastical and too-silly situations. A couple of times, things really begin to work due to their own prowess. For example, the three actors (Aaron, Endin, Dobbins) gather in a bar called The Hollister Hole to reminisce about favorite musical moments by recalling and singing bits of Broadway songs; and for a few minutes, the play shows heart and fun in a way that works. But too often, the same actors (and others) are called upon to portray and embody situations that have not been developed enough in concept or script, leaving their only option to over-act and/or over-project -- and thus under-perform. (All, by the way, are much better -- based on past appearances at either The Rhino or other Bay Area stages -- than they appear in this particular show.)
John Fisher has packed into this overly long, one-act farce (one hour, forty minutes with no intermission) so many targets for parody that the focus of what he is trying to achieve is difficult to discern. Trump-isms abound – some seemingly added only a few hours prior to production by their recent references – but come often without enough raison d’être to make total sense or be that funny. A Zika virus baby, Zabars (famed New York Jewish Deli) baby Bundt cakes, and the globally known clothing line emblazoned with Hollister (the small, nowhere town of California) are just some of the devices used in often absurd, but not very effective ways. (A much-prolonged battle with highway bandits – evidently a common occurrence in Trump’s America – makes use of Bundt cakes that fly into the audience as the skit goes nowhere for a very long time.)
Maybe the playwright is trying to call upon the antics of great Marx Brothers films like Animal Crackers or of Mel Brooke’s farces like Blazing Saddles (but just updating to Trump Times with a gay flair and pizzazz built in). Unfortunately, there are more yawns than laughs that result in the watching of this initial version of his play. Perhaps with more edits and a couple of workshops, the basic ideas can be preserved, fine-tuned, and honed into something much funnier and overall satisfying.
Rating: 1 E
Flim-Flam continues through March 18, 2017 at the Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson Street, San Francisco. Tickets are available at www.therhino.org or by calling 1-800-838-3006.
Photos by David Wilson