By Sam Stander
Have you ever seen a musical where most of the characters couldn’t read? It really is a novel idea, isn’t it? That’s what Doug Simon and Bud Davenport are here for! The hack musical theater hopefuls who basically constitute the whole cast of Scott Brown and Anthony King’s Gutenberg! The Musical! know that writing a musical is hard, so they’ve done all the work. It’s just up to the bigshot Broadway producers in the audience (purportedly) to make their dreams come true. In Beards Beards Beards: A Theatre Company’s production of the rather madcap little play, which premiered Thursday at Exit Stage Left in San Francisco, Austin Ferris and Joey Price play the two sickeningly sincere song-and-dance men to a tee.
The whole show is composed of them acting out the play by wearing trucker hats with different character names written on them (sometimes as many as seven at once, to facilitate quick changes), while their compatriot Charles (Joe D’Emilio) fastidiously attends to the piano. The hats themselves are a riot, with labels for such crucial characters as “Anti-Semite,” “Feces,” and “Dead Baby.”
The duo’s ideas about what goes into a hit Broadway musical are a double-edged satirical sword, slashing at the formula and self-importance of that often bloated medium while also cutting deeply into the delusions of its archetypal characters. But their Ed Wood-esque mania for doing things the cockamamie way they think things ought to be done is mostly just endearing. Ferris and Price have real chemistry as they dance, declaim, and flirt their way through a cascade of really horrid musical numbers. They especially give it their all on the entirely-not-scary “Haunted German Wood.”
Their failure to understand basic concepts of storytelling is one of the show’s finest points of humor. Their musical, about the inventor of the printing press, Johann Gutenberg, is described as historical fiction. What does that mean? “Fiction that’s true.” After one song is identified as foreshadowing, one of them asks, “What is foreshadowing?” The other’s response: “I’ll tell you...later!”
The play, of course, raises important issues. Doug and Bud are obsessed with illiteracy, and they explicitly state that the difficult issue their musical will tackle is the Holocaust, and how the invention of the printing press failed to prevent its atrocities. Oh, and a poignant discussion about the age-old debate between followers of God and followers of “stuff” is particularly thought-provoking.
Dropping in any more transcribed jokes out of context seems pointless, since so much of what sells these jokes is the full-on genuineness projected through the characters. But, suffice it to say, this thing is funny, and it will make an impression on you (with a printing press, get it?!).
GUTENBERG! THE MUSICAL!
Thurs-Sat, 8 p.m. (through June 26), $20
Exit Stage Left
156 Eddy, SF