Beverly Winwood Presents the 2nd Annual Actor’s Showcase
The Groundlings Theatre
Anyone privy to the business of the Business in this ol’ hardhearted industry-driven town of ours—and heaps of grateful people not directly involved but doing their best to support friends or loved ones clawing their way up the teetering and often inaccessible ladder to success—would probably understand why the term “actors’ showcase” elicits a strongly negative collective reaction in Lost Angeles just shy of an anthrax invasion.
Keeping that well in mind, a few years back noted casting director Tony Sepulveda (West Wing, Suddenly Susan, Friends, among many other projects) got a major inspiration—hopefully not while auditioning Yours Truly—eventually linking with the esteemed 34-year-old Groundlings comedy troupe to outrageously spoof the genre of the talentless actors’ showcase, complete with desperate wannabes stationed in the theatre lobby checking guests off the list and passing out stale potato chips from a community bowl while reminding everyone with whom they come in contact that they’re currently looking for representation.
The result was Beverly Winwood Presents the Actors Showcase, which opened to amazing acclaim in 2002 at the Groundlings’ 99-seat facility on Melrose and grew quickly to such epic proportions that it was moved to the mid-sized late-lamented Canon Theatre in Beverly Hills (now a massive hole in the ground, typical of our fair city).
Offering short classroom-bred scenes from classic plays and film scripts as a vehicle for the enthusiastic but hopeless students enrolled in the fictional Ms. Winwood’s acting academy—all eager to be seen by the producers’ assistants, temp filing clerks and coke dealers to the stars who received the passed-down invitation by default—such venerable comic performers as Paul “Pee-Wee Herman” Reuben, bumping into walls playing blind in a scene from Butterflies Are Free, and Jennifer Coolidge, as a Gucci-clad westside society matron replacing her puking daughter as Laura in The Glass Menagerie, jumped headfirst in Sepulveda’s hilarious neurosis to offer their rendition of some of the worst acting ever in the entire history of man.
Now, six years after the success of that first presentation, Beverly Winwood Presents the Actors Showcase returns to its original home at the Groundlings as Beverly Winwood Presents the 2nd Annual Actors Showcase. The time discrepancy between 2002 and 2008 and the meaning of the distinction “annual” is easily, breezily overlooked, however. Lord knows, Ms. Winwood (Susan Yeagley) isn’t counting years at this point; she’s too busy living her dream. Why, she’s even proud of the gap, stating in the show’s program that she’s now performed her showcases all over the country, “including Azusa, Montebello, Anaheim Hills and Tustin.”
The Showcase, again performed under the sharply comedic directorial eye of Sepulveda, begins with a welcome reprise of the same knockout introductory scene as it did originally, with Phil LaMarr of MadTV and Jordan Black, formerly of Saturday Night Live, playing Louisiana fugitive Lewis J. Poole, whose mugshot doubles as his headshot, and his streetwise bling-laden rapper friend Danger, an even sketchier guy Lewis met while in incarceration. They ignore the fact they’re decades too old for the roles as they immediately redefine the term “colorblind casting” and quickly launch into an ebonics-fueled interpretation of the bedroom scene between Biff and Happy from A Death of a Salesman, keeping with Winwood’s mantra that “it’s important to work with actors of the same race.” If LaMarr and Black would consider playing these roles for real opposite, say, fellow Winwood alum Tim Bagley and Mindy Sterling as Willie and Linda Loman, I’m there.
Bagley is a major comedic contributor here as The Captain, a crusty wheelchair-bound quadriplegic who tells us he’s performing a speech “from the play Scenes for Student Actors” since no one was willing to work with him. Keeping in mind that The Captain probably doesn’t even realize his speech is Tom’s “blow out your candles, Laura” monologue from the end of Glass Menagerie, he has chosen to play his activities as surely taught in class and light a few tapers of his own while he talks, no easy task since he’s paralyzed from the shoulders down. Wicked stuff? Yes, indeed, but downright hilarious too. I defy you not to laugh as The Captain tries to exit the stage in the dark but gets tangled up in a bent-back prop chair.
And speaking of Wicked, Sterling, best known as Frau Farbissian from the Austin Powers franchise, returns a second time (the first in 2002 was in a rousing hippie-clad medley from Hair) as Dianne Rose Whitehead, this time joining the ultra-Goth Aldo Heese (Michael Hitchcock, looking as though he’s ready to play the title character in The Anton LaVeigh Story) to sing and dance their way through the “Emmy Award-winning” (sic) musical Wicked, she as Glenda, he as a green-nosed Elphaba. Candy Brandywine and Aaron Kent (Wendi McLendon-Covey and Brian Palmero) also take on classic musical theatre with the well-worn Cassie-Zach scene from A Chorus Line featuring dance moves created by the egotistical triple-threat Kent (“singer, dancer, actor, choreographer,” he explains) that could send poor Bob Fosse spinning in his grave, albeit gracefully.
Then there’s Lynne Marie Stewart (Pee-Wee’s chiffon-challenged friend Miss Yvonne) as the heavily-accented Josephina Guzman performing a scene from The Bad Seed with a ventriloquist’s dummy as Rhoda Penmark that ends in a rolling battle on the floor while she feeds the kid an overdose of prescription meds and drinks water at the same time; Antoinette Spolar Levine and Mary Jo Smith as Emily Walden-Firth and the ever more inebriated Taylor Elizabeth, two seemingly humorless RADA grads doing Blair and Mrs. Garrett from an old Facts of Life script to prove Brits can be funny too (not); Rachel Harris and Melissa McCarthy (Sookie James on Gilmore Girls) as, respectively, housewifely sort Donna Edwards and her scene-partner Michelle Mitchell, an admirer of indeterminate sexuality, who’ve together written their own scene eventually derailed by Mitchell’s exploring hands (making it very difficult for Harris to keep a straight face, no pun intended); and Carrie Aizley and Christen Sussin as Dawnna Macumber and Theresa Delgrasso, two longtime non-actor Jersey Girl friends taking Miss Winwood’s class simply to learn “how to speak better when we’re not baked” doing a raucously side-splitting improv from MTV’s reality show The Hills.
Next to LaMarr and Black’s premature Death, there are two more outstanding highlights of the adventure here. The first is provided by Jim Rash as the terminally effeminate Willard Carrington, whose wife “insisted he play against type” by portraying the title character in Paul Rudnick’s infamously flamboyant gay comedy Jeffrey. The inventive set-up is that Willard is playing opposite Nat Faxon, returning as homophobic surfer dude Thad Ripple, who’s insisted all references to the word “sex” be changed to “fun” and “relationship” to “friendship,” also giving a thumbnail of his character to his audience as someone who’s “HIVE (sic again) positive.” Thad stops their scene cold, however, grossed out when Carrington’s premature ejaculation during an intimate moment makes his back sticky.
Last but not in any way least, Patrick Bristow (my 2006 TicketHolder winner as Best Supporting Actor in a Musical for The Break-Up Notebook) does a spot-on imitation of Project Runway’s Tim Gunn, trying to change his career and get through Abbott and Costello’s infamous stand-up routine Who’s On First? (the “A-line skirt of comedy,” he informs us) opposite Karen Maruyama’s deadpan Pu-Ping Chow, who according to her bio once played Nurse Rached in the Taipei Actor’s Gang production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and lists “ping pong, calligraphy, candlemaking, paper-mache and birds” among her special skills.
Beverly Winwood, who boasts among her successful former students David Bascaugh, Bonnie Winwood, Clara Winwood-Perry, Jonathan Winwood, Sander Woods, all the members of the dance troupe Enchante and Rick Dees, says she believes sincerity is the key to good acting (“and good manners are important too”), evidenced by this magical company of world-class comedians who make Beverly Winwood Presents… more depraved fun than you had the day the pigs ate your little sister.
Simply, the tears from laughing yourself silly will start falling early, so bring along some tissues—or a mighty good friend’s sleeve to convulse upon—so you can get through this crazy thing called Beverly Winwood Presents the 2nd Annual Actors Showcase right to its hysterically non-bitter end.
Beverly Winwood Presents the 2nd Annual Actor’s Showcase plays Monday nights only through Aug. 25 at the Groundling Theatre, 7307 Melrose Av., WeHo; for tickets, call 323.934.9700