Review: ‘People Show 121: The Detective Show’ at Southside Theater (*****)

(Charles Kruger)

(Rating: *****)

This reviewer is a voting associate member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)
This reviewer is a voting associate member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

(“People Show 121: The Detective Show” plays September 26 through October 5th at Southside Theatre at Fort Mason. There will be  one additional performance on Tuesday, October 1st at the Cameo Theater in St. Helena.) 

A black box theatre. The set? A table with a telephone on it. A furry box. The chalk outline of a body on the floor.

There’s music that is hard to place. Is it Klezmer music? Circus music? A joke?

An actor stands on the furry box and explains that when he is on the furry box he is a narrator. Just himself. He apologizes that he can’t step out into the audience and shake everybody’s hand as he would do if he could but he is obliged to honor the conventions of the proscenium. He warns us not to pay too much attention to the plot points outlined in the program. The company talked about them at some point, but they’ve been long since forgotten. But if thinks get confusing, don’t worry, he’ll step up onto the furry box and make everything clear. Sort of.

Another actor tries to introduce himself and explain that he is a founding member of the company, but the first actor shuts him up rather rudely. Somebody dances. Somebody wears a funny hat. Now we are in a police station and a dark figure out of nightmare is confronting a confused young man.

(from l to r) Gareth Brierly and Mark Long in "The Detective Show". Photo Credit: People Show.
(from l to r) Gareth Brierly and Mark Long in “The Detective Show”. Photo Credit: People Show.

“God or Satan?” he shouts. “God or Satan?! Which would you choose?”

The young man wonders if he has stumbled into the Ingmar Berman film, “The Seven Samurai”. The dark figure corrects him, dripping disdain: “No, you’re thinking of The Seventh Seal”. Oh. There is no further explanation about THAT.

Now the first actor is back on the furry box apologizing for the fact that there is about to be a sequence in mime.

Hercule Poirot wanders in, dancing.

A librarian loses his self control and descends into hysteria.

There’s a love scene. There’s a murder. There’s something about Hitler and Hedy Lamar.

Does this make sense yet? Of course not.

The People Show is simply beyond absurd. Imagine the script as the  love child of Monty Python and Firesign Theatre as performed by the Ballet Trockadero Monte Carlo with guest appearances by Groucho Marx, W. C. Fields and Marlon Brando as The Godfather and you’ll begin to get an inkling of just how funny this is.

In less capable hands, this sort of material would just be cringe inducing. This is comedy on the high wire and trapeze, so far out that you will watch in trepidation for fear that the actors will break out in flop sweat at any moment. But they don’t. We’d cringe alright, but we are laughing too damn hard.

Gareth Brierley is a classically trained actor — he’s performed with the Royal Shakespeare Company, no less — who is clearly having the romp of a life time as he shifts from character to character with the smooth agility of a race car driver.

Fiona Creese, a dancer by training, is a comedic wonder as she dances the role of Hercule Poirot with a paper bag over her head.

Mark Long shreds the stage with the kind of repressed rage at the absurdity of life that is the hallmark of truly great comic acting. Whether he is fighting for his dignity as a version of himself , impersonating a stressed out librarian or portraying a hostilely obsequious (and absurdly accented) Italian waiter, it is impossible for us to look away. Long is the peer of the likes of John Cleese or Steve Martin, with hints of Robert Benigni thrown in, but entirely himself. Only the best comic actors work out of such a deep well. It is not a matter of technique, but a quality of soul. Long is a master.

If you need some good laughs, you now know where you can go.

For further information click here.

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“People Show 121: The Detective Show”, devised and performed by People Show, produced by Lost Hog Productions. Design: Jessica Worrall. Lighting: Clahine Yavroyan. Choreography: Fiona Creese. Original Music: George Khan.

Performers: Gareth Brierly, Fiona Creese, Mark Long.

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