Hooray For Hollywood?

By John Quinn

{ITAL I'm nobody! Who are you?/Are you nobody, too?

Then there's a pair of us - don't tell!/They'd banish us, you know.

How dreary to be somebody!/How public, like a frog

To tell your name the livelong day/To an admiring bog!}

One can't help but wonder if Emily Dickenson's poem, "Nobody," was the inspiration for Jane Martin's off-the-wall comedy "Somebody/Nobody," which opened Feb. 7 at The Theatre Company of the University of Detroit Mercy. It's a rousing satire that explores what is arguably the greatest threat to society's average intelligence - the cult of celebrity.

And who better to skewer celebrity than "America's best known, unknown playwright." "Jane Martin" is a cypher, believed to be a pseudonym for one or another male artist associated with the Actors Theatre of Louisville, K.Y., where "her" plays usually premiere. An exception is "Criminal Minds," which was first produced by The Theatre Company at UDM!

When Loli (Claire Hardy), who is "as corny as Kansas in August," actually leaves Kansas for Los Angeles, she finds that working as an auto mechanic is no way to be "somebody." The serial phone calls from her mother are interrupted by frantic calls for help from her front door. The damsel in distress is actress Sheena Keener (Michelle Renaud), the goddess of low budget horror flicks, who, fleeing an awards ceremony in a panic attack, tumbled down a flight of steps. The self-absorbed starlet is brash enough to make the Kardashians look Amish. She moans about the cruel price she pays for notoriety. "Why can't I be left alone to be famous?" On the other hand, Loli wails, "You have everything and want out! I've got nothing and want in!"

But Loli's Mom has sent Cousin Joe Don (Eric W. Maher) to fetch her home. Sheena finds the gruff Ozark hermit strangely attractive. The home invasions don't end, however. Loli's peace is disturbed by one of Sheena's fans (Shaunte McArthur), among the half of Hollywood's stalkers who think they're vampires. The Stalker is banished by the arrival of Galaxy ("Bigger than a star"), the 19-year-old top talent agent to B-list film types and Sheena's representative. The wildly satirical character is played in all her androgynous glory by Judo Manko.

The character descriptions should tip you off: "Somebody/Nobody" is a farce, and a wickedly funny one, too. The over-the-top script ably defines the old line about "a laugh a minute." The exuberance of opening night may have been responsible for the cast knocking five minutes off the estimated running time, yet the pacing was perfect. Director Dr. Arthur J. Beer shrewdly walks the line between farce and mere silliness. We should note, however, that while agitation naturally pushes the voice higher and faster, the actor can't sacrifice articulation in the process. The few technical errors opening night are unlikely to be repeated.

Situation comedy frequently revolves around one sane individual caught up in a bunch of crazies. Hardy delivers a solid, grounded performance from which her fellows' outrageous characters can spring. Following Loli's growing awareness that everybody is somebody sometime adds a gentle moral to this screwball fable.

Maher's blunt backwoodsman is a fine counterpoint in his very physical performance. Michelle Renaud, a May graduate of UDM, embodies every vapid, synthetic personality we've ever loved to hate.

It doesn't matter who "Jane Martin" really is. Her questionable identity is just extra spice in the "Somebody/Nobody" stew. What counts is that somebody, somewhere is making sure sophisticated comedy is alive and well.

REVIEW:

'Somebody/Nobody'

UDM Theatre Company at Marygrove Theatre, 8425 McNichols Road, Detroit. 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday through Feb. 16. 2 hours. $5-20. 313-993-3270. http://theatre.udmercy.edu

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