You’ve undoubtedly heard it said that “Everyone has at least one good book in them.” Substitute “solo performance” for book and you’re in Hollywood, and if you should happen to doubt my words, you’ve only to check out how many One-Man or One-Woman Shows there are every summer at the Fringe Festival.
Still, despite this solo performance glut, there aren’t that many you’d actually pay good money to see, all the more reason to celebrate the return of story-telling master David Dean Bottrell, who not only has a Scenie-winning Solo Performance in him, he’s got a wingdinger of a follow-up to it, entitled simply David Dean Bottrell Is Working.
Bottrell’s first solo piece, David Dean Bottrell Makes Love: A One Man Show, could just as easily have been called David Dean Bottrell’s Adventures In Gay Dating had the title he came up with not been considerably cleverer. For its follow-up, Bottrell segues from Love Life to Career in a series of flashbacks prompted by an incident I’ll leave it to him to reveal. Suffice it to say that the event in question was traumatic and took place about six months ago in a “transitional neighborhood” in Mid-City L.A. where the actor slash comedian slash screenwriter was teaching an acting class.
Those flashbacks take us back in time to Bottrell’s first apartment in Harlem, then on to test screenings at the Magic Johnson Cinema “when I was black” (there is an explanation for that, and a funny one at that), and later to the crazed Boston Legal fan who wrote requesting a photo of Bottrell’s feet—a laugh-filled rollercoaster ride through a career most would-be Hollywood stars would probably exchange their own for in a heartbeat. (Take that, ye L.A. Times reviewer who dared to call Bottrell “on the fringe of success.”)
An elementary school Christmas pageant gave young David a taste of what a life in the spotlight might portend (and taught him the meaning of the verb “to upstage”). Before embarking on an honest-to-goodness showbiz career, however, 16-year-old David snagged his first paying job—weighing and bagging dope for Mrs. Opal Maynard, one of “the primary dealers on the west side of the [Ohio] county” where he and his Kentucky family had moved.
Still, Bottrell’s first love was acting, and noticing that “there were a great many musicals being produced on Broadway” (and realizing that after all “How hard could it be?”), the Kentucky-to-Ohio-to-New York transplant signed up to take singing lessons from Mrs. Christine Bibby-Schwott, just one more of the many quirky (and unfortunately named) characters with whom the acting hopeful was to cross paths on his quest for stardom. By 1984, he had even auditioned for his first Broadway show!
Flash forward to 2004, a year which saw Bottrell happily married to “a handsome, dark-haired, patent attorney” and earning big bucks himself as “a highly successful black writer.” (If you doubt the later bit of David Dean Bottrell trivia, look up the LL Cool J/Jada Pinkett Smith/Whoopie Goldberg starrer Kingdom Come on imdb.)
Unfortunately for Bottrell’s showbiz projects, the couple were living in Washington D.C., hardly the best place to pursue a career in entertainment, prompting David to briefly imagine himself “working among the sick and downtrodden of D.C.” as a minister or chaplain. (There was only one problem. As much as Bottrell liked the idea, he wasn’t exactly sure there was a god.)
I’ll leave it to the solo performer himself to reveal what prompted his return to L.A. (though trust me, it ain’t pretty) or how he got the Golden Statuette he so proudly displays near the end of his 70-minute show. Suffice it to say that you can’t keep a good performer down…not if he’s David Dean Bottrell, a man who gets laughs not only by catching you by surprise but in anticipation of a punch line you gleefully realize is coming. Quite a gift, and one that makes this a solo performance worth seeing where others might inspire groans or yawns.
At the risk of repeating myself, let me simply copy and paste from my review of Bottrell’s first solo piece: “Not only is David Dean Bottrell a very funny man with more than enough life experience to write a laugh-a-minute one-man show; he happens also to be blessed with razor-sharp comic timing, undeniable charisma, and a likeability factor that has you in his corner from the get-go and keeps you wanting more.” Still true this time round.
Along for the ride as he was last year is crackerjack director Jim Fall, and if Solo Show Number Two isn’t yet as polished as Number One was, it’s to be noted that last night was only its second performance as opposed to David Dean Bottrell Makes Love: A One Man Show, which I saw in its third incarnation.
Pamela Lillard pops up twice to underscore on guitar, though truth be told, prerecorded music would just as easily do the trick and not pull focus away from our star (no offense intended to the talented Ms. Lillard).
David Dean Bottrell Is Working is presented by Sitting Kitty Productions and Quitcher-Bitchyn Entertainment. Lee Costello is producer.
If last night’s SRO crowd’s standing ovation is any indication, those who snooze may find it hard to score tickets to David Dean Bottrell Is Working’s three remaining performances. Trust me: This is one One Man Show you won’t be wanting to miss.
The ACME Comedy Theatre, 135 N La Brea Ave Los Angeles.
March 6, 2013
Photo: Ed Olen