By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
El Grande, set in Trujillo, Mexico, is performed almost entirely in Spanish, though no worries for non-Spanish speakers, since the physical comedy is too broad and the dialogue too peppered with English-isms for the meaning or the humor to be lost. It's a classic setup: The headliners for the cabaret have checked out for the night, meaning that the ragtag team of remaining thespians, magicians, musicians and dancers have to pull the show out of the hat. They do this with what might be called aggressive mediocrity, which impresario/emcee Pepe Hernandez (Ron House) covers with bursts of forced laughter, rolling "r"s in his speech that try to cover disaster with flourish, and a perpetual, unwitting expression of terror. Pepe is joined by his two saucy daughters, Maria and Consuelo (the marvelous Nina Brissey and Lila Dupree).
There's a blind blues singer who falls off the stage, a pair of nose-in-the-air, prancing queens (all of these cameos are played and sometimes overplayed by David Lago and Aaron Jackson) and a very funny daredevil act in which a marksman attempts to shoot a bullet through a balloon, to soften its trajectory, so it lands gently in the mouth of Pepe's very apprehensive daughter. To make things more dramatic, the marksman shoots while looking in the opposite direction through a mirror.
On the way home, I stopped off to grab a taco from a street vendor. A blind, homeless guy bumped into me and then crashed into and knocked over a garbage can, sending its contents spewing out onto Vine Street. He then fled, cane in hand, into the recesses of a parking lot. Nobody around laughed.
Santa Monica, CA 90405
Region: Santa Monica
7307 Melrose Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90046
Category: Performing Arts Venues
But when "blind Joe Jackson" fell off the stage in El Grande, everybody laughed.
This has little to do with what's "appropriate" and what's vulgar — it has to do with the way vaudeville reframes human pathos as a cartoon, with ancient forms of humor that release demons lurking within us in waves of mirth. However perverse that may be, it's as old as the hills.
EL GRANDE DE COCA COLA | By Ron House, Diz White, Alan Shearman and John Neville-Andrews | Ruskin Group Theatre, 3000 Airport Ave., Santa Monica | Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; runs through Sept. 28 (no perf Sept. 1) | (310) 397-3244 | ruskingrouptheatre.com
GROUNDLINGS ONLINE UNIVERSITY | Written and performed by the Groundlings | Groundlings Theatre, 7303 Melrose Ave., W. Hlywd. | Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 8 & 10 p.m.; runs indefinitely | (323) 934-4747 | groundlings.com