Monday, March 7, 2011

"We can make it better with a little bit of razzamatazz."

Mentioning my 1973 play Nothing is Sacred in the last entry has brought back thoughts about being daring and nutsy on stage during those early '70s.  It was great, folks!  A tremendous amount of freedom, again in thanks to Santa Barbara City College drama instructor Max Whittaker.  The school would put on its regular productions and then allow the student run Theatre Guild to mount its own show.  All of us at the time had been fortunate enough to be in involved in the comedy production of Love Rides the Rails.  This old time melodrama had been hipped up enough (thanks to the cool direction by Mr. Whittaker) to be the most successful play in SBCC's Little Theatre history.  I was Theatre Guild president at the time, so it was my desire to take the momentum of the first comedy and be more outrageous with the second.

Nothing is Sacred was meant to be a surreal day in television.  In the spirit of the Firesign Theatre, Ernie Kovacs and the Goon Show, I wanted to try and go further--especially in visuals and sound.  We were young and we had energy.  Madness, really!  Here's the proposal:

What would happen if the characters from the early morning kiddie show would carry on... through the matinee movie, into the afternoon soap opera, continue into the evening news, and then wind up in the late night entertainment show?  And sandwich this story in the trappings of a day of trivial broadcast crap, done hopefully in provocative parody.  Let's mix the chemicals and see what happens.

The main theme was centered on the cheezey Red Scare sci-fi film of the '50s, entitled Crabs, that was being played on the Ben Hummer Matinee Movie.  A real parody, now long forgotten.  The film, somewhat inspired by the actual movie, Attack of the Crab Monsters, focused on the dismal life of a man named David Typical.  A person who, having been given a slight case of the crotch squirrels by his girlfriend, has the bad fortune of, while visiting his dentist for x-rays, having his lower jockey shorts area exposed to the radiation rather than his teeth.  Are you following this so far?  The radiation affects the infestation of crab lice and before you can scream "Jim Arness," the community is dominated (in a Bert I. Gordon sort of way) by giant mutated crabs.  Why not, I say?  It's only f..king Santa Barbara.  A harbour town.  Deal with it, you poncey bastards!  You got CRABS.  GIANT CRABS!!!  And they're crawling on the Arlington Tower...the Granada Theatre building.  All those oak trees (what else are you going to find for a forested pubis habitat)?

So the poor, hapless bastard becomes crab infested in the movie, winds up desperate for medical attention (that will NOT be given to him on the soap opera Cottage Cheese Hospital), generates giant crabs that will appear later on the incredibly mediocre and amateur local news...and finally wind up as guests (the giant crabs, that is) and destroying the late night talk and entertainment program...the After Death Show, with your (g)host...Post Mortem.


I was fortunate enough to do this show with all the actors from the mega-successful Love Rides the Rails.  The cast included R. Leo Schreiber, who had played the lead villain Simon Darkway to my side-kick henchman Dirk Sneath.  He had the talent to assume a multitude of characters for this crazy production and gave his all in shape-shifting madness.  It was fun times 2.  Double Fun.  He was great to work with, always on my wavelength, easy to direct and a solid character actor.  Also in the cast was Sue O'Reilly (her married name) who later became Sue Dugan (her maiden name).  A talented comic actress, who was also my girlfriend at the time.  Like R. Leo, she had the ability to do a comic repertory.  It was like doing SCTV before it happened.  Sue could be a ten-year-old adenoidal child one moment and then turn into a fifty-year-old society matron the next.  Also in the cast was Ken Brigance, a free spirited cat who could do Gabby Hayes meets Slim Pickens types on the spot.  An artist as well.  He drew the KCOW logo that would be the symbol of the show (Hee-hee! We shot down 2 out of three local crap network affiliates).  Mary C. Webb, a lovely lady (pictured in the introduction as Sally Fetish, the Weather in Leather Girl); Billie Vrtiak, the solid actress with the delightful dark Jane Fonda-like shag haircut; and Frank Califano, one of the sweetest and most sensitive actors I ever met (like those character actors from the '40s who would play tough but were really children) rounded out the cast. This was a smart cast.  We had come off the success of Max Whittaker's Love Rides the Rails, so feeling cocky, we wanted the party to continue.

And we still felt like creative anarchists.  Santa Barbara, like certain other areas of the U. S. of Ah, was a certain contradiction.  Extremely hip and free spirited in some ways, the city also housed the ultra-powerful--the types who stepped out of a Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett novel.  People who had something to hide and could afford to hide it...found the Big Avocado a delightful community to step out of the limelight and merge peacefully in the sun drenched shadows.  A community of oxymorons, if ever there was.

The Big Avocado.  RIPE for parody.  Fools Rush In...