“A+ CAST PLUS BOFFO SCRIPT EQUALS FRINGE FEST SMASH” is how I concluded my review of Meet & Greet, Stan Zimmerman and Christian McLaughlin’s outrageously funny tale of a quartet of fictional Broadway/Hollywood divas vying for a sitcom pilot lead, when it played this past June at the Hollywood Fringe Festival. Now, Meet & Greet is back for a second run at Theatre Asylum, and as evidenced by the nonstop laughter at yesterday’s SRO matinee, Meet & Greet 2.0 is even more outrageously funny the second time around than it was the first.
Broadway legend Margo Jane Marsden (Carolyn Hennesy), former sitcom costars Belinda Reid (Vicki Lewis) and Teri Valentine (Teresa Ganzel), and Real Housekeepers Of Palm Beach star Desiree White (Daniele Gaither) have once again been summoned to a San Fernando Valley casting office to read for a starring role in a soon-to-be shot pilot, that of “sophisticated CEO” Andréa (or “horny Cougar” Andrea depending on who you ask).
Not surprisingly, each diva finds the presence of the other three more than a bit irritating … and more than a bit of a surprise as well, since no four actresses could be more dissimilar than classically trained stage vet Margo, loony-bin-ready Belinda, blonde dingbat Teri, and sleazily spandexed Desiree.
As the office’s Grindr-obsessed gay casting assistant (Brendan Robinson)—“He was nine inches! Away!”—summons each of the four candidates to the casting directors’ inner sanctum, co-writers Zimmerman and McLaughlin let the remaining three skewer today’s Hollywood—and each other—with in-joke after in-joke, though none of them so “in” as to fly over the head of your average everyday Hollywood-savvy Angelino.
And what women these four divas are!
The tea-ordering, vodka-swilling Margo Jane not only has “extensive Broadway experience” and 5 Tonys to show for it (“and it would have been six if Angela Lansbury had retired … or died”), her extensive TV work includes the role of Ivana in the HBO docudrama “The Brides Of Trump.”
Then there’s hippy-dippy Belinda—late this afternoon because of (among other things) a severed head on the 101. Prone to hear and respond to voices in her head, Margo’s ongoing conversations with herself prompt Margo Jane to inquire in all seriousness, “Are you on a Bluetooth right now?”
Teri’s been a good deal busier than former costar Belinda since the abrupt cancellation of their sitcom “You Better Work,” though her current TV appearances mostly revolve round the promotion of a line of Teri Valentine health and beauty products (including her very own fragrance “It’s Elemen-Teri”).
Last but not least is reality TV star Desiree White, who could give Real Atlanta Housewife NeNe Leakes more than a run for her money. (“For the record,” she tells the gals, “I didn’t stab Lorena. The knife fell into her thigh.”) And like Leakes before her, Desiree is ready to give “actressing” a try.
As the one-liners fly fast and furious (Margo: “Break a leg! Desiree: “Fuck a chainsaw!), we get to know each actress’s back story, including the events leading up to Belinda and Teri’s long-simmering feud.
Netflix, Twitter, and The Valley find themselves the targets of one-liner after one-liner, and if Meet & Greet isn’t the profoundest show in town, I’ll leave it to curmudgeonly “drama critics” to carp.
Zimmerman’s direction of Meet & Greet 2.0 is every bit as snappy as it was at the Fringe, and how often is it that you get to be in the presence of actresses with as many stage and screen credits under their belts as the foursome now lighting up Theatre Asylum?
General Hospital fans know Hennesy for her long-running role as Diane Miller, Lewis spent five seasons starring as Beth in the NBC sitcom NewsRadio, Ganzel created her own ditzy persona in frequent appearances opposite Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show, and Gaither made her name creating assorted wacky characters on MadTV. And not to be outdone, Meet & Greet newcomer Robinson has been playing Lucas on the hit TV series Pretty Little Liars since its first season.
All of this makes for some absolutely delectable scene stealing with all five Meet & Greet stars equally guilty of stage larceny.
No one plays grand and glamorous more grandly and glamorously than Hennesy, nor does so with such razor-sharp comedy timing. She is, in a word, divine, if only a single word could suffice.
Like Henessy, Lewis is not only a TV name but an L.A. theater treasure (with a pair of Scenies to show for it), a heady blend of talent and versatility that together make her wonderfully weird Belinda a zany treat.
Ganzel has not only made a science of playing bleach-blonde-and-bubble-headed on some of TV’s most classic game shows, Meet & Greet allows her to reveal surprising depths beneath the dingdong surface.
As for Gaither, known by MadTV fans as the wild-and-crazy Dilly Mae Jackson and Yvoone Criddle and for her celebrity impersonations of Condoleezza Rice and Tyra Banks, can an actress be more chameleon-like than the one who vanishes inside trash-talking Desiree?
Finally, taking over the role of Meet & Greet’s nameless casting assistant, Robinson flits so fabulously and quips so queenily that you’d never guess his specialty up till now has been playing hetero high school nerds like his lead role in the new teen flick Feels So Good, available on Hulu Plus and Amazon Instant Video.
Set consultant Adam Hunter gives this “sit-down” production of Meet & Greet the nicely detailed office set a Hollywood Fringe Festival run couldn’t offer, and tech associate Aaron Lyons’ lighting design is devilishly good. Top marks go once again Eusebio Aynaga’s wigs, and Rick Crane’s TV show posters, and the cast’s character-perfect costumes.
Britt Keller is stage manager and Chelsea Pitillo assistant director. Jill K. Allen, Saratoga Ballantine, Braden Davis, and Natalie Whittle understudy.
Meet & Greet’s current eight-week engagement takes the recent Fringe Festival hit to a new level. As for what’s next, Meet & Greet’s cast and script would make it a perfect fit for the Falcon.
In the meantime, check out Meet & Greet at Theatre Asylum where’s it’s keeping audiences in stitches from its outrageously hilarious start to its devilishly funny finish.
Theatre Asylum-Elephant Space 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood.
August 24, 2014
Photos: Maia Rosenfeld