Tom Lenk in Tilda Swinton Answers an Ad on Craigslist
Tom Lenk in Tilda Swinton Answers an Ad on Craigslist
Courtesy Celebration Theatre

Tilda Swinton Surprises a Suicidal Man in a Campy New Comedy

In Byron Lane’s shtick-filled comedy at Celebration Theatre, a flamboyant figure claiming to be actress Tilda Swinton (Tom Lenk) shows up on the doorstep of a suicidal man named Walt (Lane) and inspires him to accept himself and get on with his life.

“Tilda Swinton” is a curious name to attach to this character. In real life, Swinton is an actress who emanates strength and intelligence, has a British family pedigree that goes back to the Norman Conquest, and has moved in intellectual and left-leaning political circles throughout her life. (She flirted with Marxism in her youth.) By contrast, Lenk’s drama queen cavorts in the style of Gloria Swanson or some other tart-tongued, camera-worshipping celebrity. This love-the-limelight individual is an androgynous blond who makes an entrance in an all-white, fantastical fairy-godmother sort of robe (eventually discarded for simpler but still blindingly white garb).

The reason Tilda’s seeking proximity to Walt is so he can use Walt as a character model for his next film, still in development. Drab Walt is dazzled. In the midst of Tilda’s prattling and prancing, Walt’s buff, baby-faced ex-boyfriend (Mark Jude Sullivan) makes a return visit. He’s as narcissistic as Tilda is, if that’s possible; the two, sharing similar self-love philosophies, make a brief connection. Later the same actor returns as Walt’s stuffy accountant Dad, who wants Walt to come into the family business (one reason Walt’s doing trial runs of plastic bags over his head). Dad briefly has it out with Walt’s mom (Jayne Entwistle), who’s also shown up to spend an evening with Walt watching The Bodyguard (one of her favorites, as it speaks to a woman’s need to be cared for).

Directed by Tom DeTrinis, Lenk performs with flawless aplomb; if his character is a campy caricature, well, it’s an admirably crisp, well-paced one. In multiple roles, both Sullivan and Entwistle prove skilled comedians. (Besides Walt’s mom, Entwistle plays both Tilda’s assistant and a fast-food delivery person, whose scene at the end generates the piece’s sole genuine moment.) Sullivan and Entwistle got more laughs from me than Lenk simply because the jokes attached to them were based on real human behavior rather than Tilda’s pseudo-movie star antics. As Walt, Lane’s too content to play straight man for the others; he never stirs much interest.

The main problem comes down to the script, which features a smattering of laugh lines but too few in a show that, promised to run 60 minutes, ran 20 minutes longer. There’s a lot of reiteration and excess silliness — not, for my money, the inspired kind. It reminded me of a diet soda, carbonated and empty. Some folks found it funny, so I guess if you’re a person who enjoys stylized camp for its own sake, you might, too.

Celebration Theatre at the Lex, 6760 Lexington Ave., Hollywood; through Aug. 31. celebrationtheatre.com.

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