Red Bastard glides on stage looking like the unfortunate offspring of a “Yellow Submarine” Blue Meanie and an encephalitic tomato with a thyroid condition. As his eyes slowly roam over the packed house you sense that backstage he’s traded his hockey mask and chainsaw for a bright red leotard and you’re now facing the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, balled up, horses and all into one bloated package. Be afraid…. Be very afraid.
They were packed in tightly at the Artworks Theatre with seating two across in the aisle, and folding chairs and cushions lining either side of the stage to hold the overflowing horde attending the Monday night performance of Eric Davis AKA Red Bastard, a show that by rights should come with a Surgeon General’s warning printed on its side. For certain theater-goers, myself among them, possess a deep aversion to “audience participation” in any form. We refuse to leap up from our seats whenever someone mentions “stately Corinthian columns”, and they had better check on Tinkerbell’s donor card because we’re not clapping. These folks need to be forewarned that what Davis terms “audience participation” feels a lot more like karmic payback.
“Red Bastard” is equal parts Cirque du Soleil and Brother Theodore*, the “comic from hell” who came to America after his release from Dachau Concentration Camp and subjected audiences, until his death in 2001, first in Los Angeles then New York, to his invective loaded stream-of-consciousness “stand up tragedy”.
“Something interesting must happen every ten seconds,” Red Bastard barks at the top of the evening, not so much informing us as warning us. And then well within his time restriction he farts.
He races and wheels about like a plucked chicken with psychopathic tendencies as he conducts his audience like a manic maestro building up to a crescendo of demands:
All the while bounding, waddling, and ricocheting off the walls, into the audience, then bouncing back onto the stage via a classic pratfall, exclaiming, “I sat on my art!” Adhering to his strict “ten second” rule he allows for no lulls, shrieking at malingerers, “Nobody wants to be in the former garage on the street with the hookers-in-training!”
In between impressions of Lady GaGa and allowing the lucky few to pluck money from his ass – really, genuine, legal tender! – Red Bastard engages the audience, abusing, demanding, expounding, challenging – slowly working a tidy transformation on his assemblage, transmuting us from punching bag to “home team”, while himself undergoing a metamorphosis from our tormentor to our cheerleader and finally to our school coach inspiring us in the locker room at half time during the “Big Game”.
Seems he’ll happily be on our side, only he insists we first have a side for him to be on. Early on he informs us, “If you come away tonight saying that show was boring – well it’s 80% your fault!” – and he’s telling the plain truth, nothing else but.
Davis bobs in and out of a dizzying slew of personae, one moment the mime from hell the next a Diogenes in grease paint as he cunningly entices us to enter his Comedia del Confessional that draws out some remarkably intimate revelations:
With repeated jabs of “What do you want? What? What?” Red Bastard batters away at a tall actor, until the cool, casual demeanor he’s probably labored long and hard at cultivating begins to crack and he blurts out always wanting to tell his older brother how much he hates him for making his childhood a nightmare!
“How?” demands Red Bastard, insisting on specifics. “What sorta things did he do?”
His face flushing red, the actor relates how his brother would hold him down after rubbing peanut butter all over his face and let the dogs lick it off.
One young lady wishes her personal life was as happy as her professional life. Goaded on by Red Bastard, she reveals she’s the director of a successful ensemble, but that her boyfriend is a self-involved jerk and she doesn’t know how to end the relationship. (How about showing him this review and saying, “Three clues who’s being talked about – Y-O-U.”)
Credit goes to Red Bastard; he has demanded we strip ourselves bare at his whimsy, and he demonstrates his willingness to do so himself until the deformed, diabolical tormentor who has pummeled us for two plus hours stands figuratively and literally naked before us.
Now generally I shun ovations, finding L.A. audiences all too wanton in bestowing them. In the last twenty years I’ve joined in less than a half dozen (Slava Polunin’s “Snowstorm” and William Reilly and Gary Lamb’s amazingrevisionary “Godspell” being two where I did!). But I stood for the Red Bastard. Not because it was a perfect show, but because I felt his sincere desire was to have people leave the theatre better – stronger – than they’d arrived.
And I’m confident some actually may have.
* “To be Brother Theodore is no bed of roses. I’m the bride at every funeral. I’m the corpse at every wedding.”
Starring Eric Davis
Written by Eric Davis, Deanna Fleysher and Sue Morrison
Created under the Direction of Sue Morrison with continued direction by Deanna Fleysher
Produced by Art Via Corpora