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The Good, the Bad and the Horny 

Comedic and despondent views of human attraction

Wednesday, Nov 8 2006
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Bachelor Tom Rubin is an entertainment lawyer who drafts contracts by day and does standup by night. Now he’s doing his one-man show, Short, Horny and Pissed, at Santa Monica’s Promenade Playhouse. Rubin is a short fellow with a prodigious quantity of testosterone flowing through his veins, or fibers, or wherever testosterone flows — or so he says in his theatrical survey of human frustration. He says a great deal in his performance, but does he say much that matters, i.e., that holds anything or anybody, including himself, up to scrutiny? No. Rather, he quips. That’s what most standups do, grabbing a stereotype like a wave and surfing along its lip while scanning the horizon for punch lines. The not-so-novel premise of Rubin’s show is his lack of height and how it stymies his attempts to get laid. It could be that Rubin can’t get laid because of his testosterone rather than his height. Even a tall guy who hits on women by declaring, or revealing, his horniness probably won’t get very far. That theory goes unexplored by Rubin.

One senses from Rubin’s show that there’s a lot he’s not telling us. Rubin says he’s got plenty of money and drives a nice car. And he can’t score in L.A. just because he’s short? Here are some examples from Rubin’s show of how he riffs from clichés, only to perpetuate them:

“If I were threatening, I’d get laid.”

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“There’s a fetish for shit, but not for short men. There’s even a fetish for midgets, but I’m too tall.”

“[L.A. is] all about being hip. I am not hip. I’m a member of the Vons Club.”

“In Newport Beach, they all surf and move at half speed — ‘Dude, can I have a taco?’ ”

His press packet includes a conversation with an uncredited interviewer working for an undisclosed media outlet. Answering the question “What’s the dream?” Rubin replies, “To live on my own island in the South Pacific with 50 gorgeous women, a Barcalounger and cable. If I can’t have that, an HBO special would be nice.”

Now we’re getting to the heart of something — HBO. If you’re seeking a stereotype about how L.A. theater exists as an Industry showcase, look no further. Rubin might do just fine on HBO. He’s perfectly amiable, and his comic timing isn’t bad. If that’s what he wants, I hope he gets it. He impersonates a marvelously sarcastic and abusive computer-tech specialist in India who leaves the audience howling. The larger point is about the relationship between a joke and the truth — the difference between surfing the lip of a cliché and crawling inside to pull its guts out. Seth Morris, the artistic director of the L.A. branch of the comedy house Upright Citizens Brigade, says that in his struggle in the search for local “alternative” comedians who exhibit the kind of humor that shatters expectations — the way Andy Kaufman used to do with his abusive alter ego, or by bringing out the Mormon Tabernacle Choir to close his act, for no reason at all — that kind of explosive wit keeps getting jammed by comedians’ yearning to work on TV. And working on TV means sitcoms funded by mega–marketing campaigns, sitcoms fueled by quips that reinforce the familiar to an audience of potential consumers settling in for the night for an evening of relaxation and pleasantries.

That’s exactly what Rubin’s show offers.

British playwright Sarah Kane was suffering from suicidal tendencies when she saw the first production of her play Cleansed at London’s Royal Court Theatre in 1998. A year after she hanged herself in 1999, her play 4.48 Psychosis premiered — “4.48” representing the time in the morning when most suicides are attempted. Kane’s short body of widely produced works reflects the soul of a young woman living on the margins of mental stability, not unlike the human race in general. Cleansed, in a revival at the Complex, takes place in an insane asylum, which set designer Jason Rupert depicts as four chessboard quadrants, plus a throne on high. From this perch, Tinker (Jeremiah Heitman) — who’s pretending to be a doctor — casually observes the consequences of his sadism, which includes hacking the body parts from one gay man (James Kopp) in order to test the devotion of his partner (Andrew McCarty). Meanwhile, the ghost of a drug addict (Jacob Wolber) haunts a young female inmate (Kimberly Canfield) as Tinker seeks some human connectedness with a Woman (Caroline Clark) in a peepshow.

If, in his examination of frustration, Rubin surfs the lip of stereotypes, Kane does precisely the opposite, plunging underwater in order to express the essences of human love and barbarism. The acting, under Roger Mathey’s staging, is as raw and unmannered as the text. The production also contains explicit violence, sex and nudity. Cleansed is as suffocating as Rubin’s show is glib. Rubin thinks a great deal about his audience, and, of course, HBO. Kane’s entire commitment is to her characters, and to the depths of their despondency. One is pleasant and tells us little; the other is a merciless depiction of life in a prison camp. Anyone can challenge Kane’s head-in-the-oven school of drama, but nobody can impugn her integrity.

SHORT, HORNY AND PISSED | Written and performed by TOM RUBIN | At the PROMENADE PLAYHOUSE, 1404 Third St. Promenade, Santa Monica | Through December 16 | (800) 595-4849

CLEANSED | By SARAH KANE | Presented by SEAT OF YOUR PANTS PRODUCTIONS at THE COMPLEX, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood | Through December 2 | (310) 930-7254

Reach the writer at smorris@laweekly.com

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