In Resignation Day, playwright Charles Pike imagines a day in the life of Terry Southern (played by Chairman Barnes), screenwriter of such 60s classics as Dr. Strangelove and Easy Rider as well as cult favorites Barbarella and Candy, a day in 1974 which happens also to be the day that Richard Nixon resigned the office of President of the United States.
Resignation Day’s first act is full of wacky humor, as Southern deals with phone calls from a) a wrong number complaining about a defective toaster, b) his ex-wife (who informs him that she is sending their sex-masturbation-penis-obsessed son over for a stay with Dad), and c) an IRS agent (a suitably harried Richard Sabine) informing him that he owes seven years of unpaid Federal Income Tax. He also receives visits from a sexy French maid (=his girlfriend in a French maid’s uniform) and a man (Sean Sweeney) who arrives at Terry’s second-floor window complaining of a bite to his rear end by the writer’s pet pig. Then comes Act Two, which is another story entirely … but more about that later. Let’s start with the good stuff.
In the role of the blocked writer, Sacred Fools regular Barnes couldn’t be better, or better cast. Starting Page One of his latest novel again and again, then tearing each of them from his typewriter in frustration, Barnes leaves the floor around him a mess of crumpled paper as he hilariously searches for that “infinitely illusive first paragraph.” Joseph Beck and Tifanie McQueen get many laughs as the Smudges, owners of the faulty toaster, to whom Terry offers this advice: When calling a department store about a defective product, he informs them, “begin with a compliment,”, which a willing Mr. Smudge does with “You’re a very caring, sensitive person.” “You’re kidding,” replies Terry, somehow maintaining a straight face. “No, really, I mean it!” insists the stranger. Even funnier is the scene in which Southern instructs Mrs. Smudge to remove any metal or nylon she may be wearing, including her pantyhose, in order to get rid of the static on the line. (No, there’s no static. It’s just Terry crumpling paper next to his mouth).
Bonnie-Kathleen Discepolo has fun playing the French maid/girlfriend, and looks sensational when later donning a bikini. Also in tiptop shape (and doing tiptop work) is strapping young Michael Rachlis, having a field day as Bigboy, Terry’s sex pervert of a 14-year-old son, clad only in black bra and skimpy black jockey shorts. (According to Bigboy’s mother, the muscular young lad is spending far too much time in the closet playing with (and measuring) his “wing-wang” and compiling Polaroid records of the daily growth of his penis, as well as snaps of his “aperture,” aka his sphincter.)
Meanwhile, Terry snorts coke, dons a Nixon mask, clucks like a chicken, and reads a page of Bigboy’s sexually explicit diary to the editor of Screw Magazine, who has called to complain that Southern’s latest friction-fiction submission isn’t hot enough. (Bigboy’s most certainly is, leaving the editor eager to publish it.)
The above scenes benefit from David LM McIntyre’s frenetic direction and Christina Silvoso’s inspired scenic design. (Whenever Terry gets a call, one of the walls opens à la Laugh In, revealing the caller behind it.)
Then comes the bizarre, surrealistic, and for me at least, off-putting Act Two. Despite featuring crackerjack performances by Sweeney (returning from the first act), Tanner Thomason as Rip, and particularly Richard Horvitz, the always dynamic actor wackily manic as Irwin, I found myself confused and turned-off almost from the start. The act also features Colin Willkie as the Mover and Roy Allen in the role of Bill, who spends most of the act on a chair and covered with a blanket, after having shot up some heroin. Press notes explain that Rip is actor Rip Torn, Irwin is 60s comedian “Professor” Irwin Corey, and Bill is William S. Burroughs, author of Naked Lunch, but the lack of explanation in Pike’s script as to who these men are or what their relationship to Southern is is likely to leave audience members, and particularly anyone under 50, perplexed indeed. Add to this Sweeny in women’s undergarments, his mouth jaggedly covered with red lipstick, and a trio of Richard Nixons doing a funky R&B rap number—apparently all of this taking place in Terry’s mind—and you too may find yourself tuning out to the onstage madness. And then again you may be someone who “gets” the second act. If so, drop me a line to explain it.
Design elements are all first rate, from Silvoso’s cluttered living room set to Cynthia Herteg’s costumes to Karyn Lawrence’s lighting to Cricket S. Myers’ sound design.
Terry Southern aficionados are likely to enjoy Resignation Day more than I did, and if you’re one of them, you should probably give the play a try. For others, there is at least the first act to send you out for intermission still chuckling.
Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Ave, Hollywood.
January 17, 2009