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The worldwide headquarters and hindquarters of freelance writer Chris Klimek

Righting the Outlaw Wrongs in Brooklyn: Notes on The Thrilling Adventure Hour's first out-of-L.A. show

Chris Klimek

[caption id="attachment_8962" align="alignleft" width="309"] I bought this poster at the merch table.[/caption] I finally saw Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark this weekend, but that was just to kill an evening in New York City in advance of the event that had precipitated the trip from DC: The very first East Coast performance of The Thrilling Adventure Hour. I'm glad you asked! The Thrilling Adventure Hour is a podcast that my pal Glen Weldon turned me onto early last year. It lost no time shooting to the top of my list of favorite things. Recorded at the Los Angeles nightclub Largo at the Coronet the first weekend of each month, TAHis a collection of hilarious serial narratives that affectionately parody the pre-television radio dramas I discovered when I lived in LA and was spending too many of my precious few hours of life in my car.

The best of them are the two that bookend the monthly live show.

Sparks Nevada, Marshal on Mars is basically The Lone Ranger set on the Red Planet, only with more musical numbers, like its marvelous theme song. It stars Marc Evan Jackson as Sparks and Mark Gagliardi as "his faithful Martian companion, Croach the Tracker," whose fidelity to strict codes of Martian honor often has him "under onus" to the Earth-man he works for, who means well but is sometimes a bit of a jerk.

There's a rotating feature in the middle, plus some funny fake commercials for fake sponsors Workjuice Coffee and Patriot Brand Cigarettes.

[caption id="attachment_8978" align="alignright" width="214"] Paul F. Tompkins and Paget Brewster as Frank and Sadie Doyle. (ROMAN CHO)[/caption]

The closing feature is Beyond Belief, starring Paget Brewster and Paul F. Tompkins as Sadie and Frank Doyle, a high-functioning, alcoholic 1930s society couple who help people with their supernatural troubles. Especially if those supernatural troubles stand in the way of the Doyles' next drink.

Which of the two regular features is my favorite is usually a matter of which one I've listened to the most recently. (Each serial is released as a separate podcast, usually not more than 30 minutes in length. The live show runs about 90 minutes.) They're both brilliantly funny, featuring sublime vocal work from the actors and written, as are all of the features and everything else on the show (including, with Andy Paley, the songs), by Ben Acker and Ben Blacker. They make their living writing TV shows together. TAH is the project they -- and their impressive company of in-demand actors, comics and musicians -- do for love.

Sadly, TAH didn't start up until right around the time I moved to DC from LA in late 2005, or I'd have been a regular at the show from the moment I found out about it.

Lately, they've started to post the podcasts fairly soon after their recording, but there's still usually a lag of a few months. With new episodes happening in L.A. each month, I wondered if we in the East Coast audience would find ourselves a few installments behind.

As soon as the show began on Sunday night, I immediately recognized the Sparks installment, "Do the Fight Thing," as a rerun. The show was all reruns: The Beyond Belief installment, "Vampire Weekend" was originally recorded on Aug. 6, 2011, the same day as that particular Sparks episode was first heard. (On the recording, emcee Hal Lublin announces its title as "Vampire Law.") The middle feature, Down in Moonshie Hollar -- about a millionaire who forsakes his fortune to live, unconvincingly, as a hobo -- was an episode called "The Lottery." I couldn't find a recording date for that one, but the release date on my podcast file is March 27, 2011.

It was a little disappointing not to hear new chapters, but I was surprised how little it bothered me. I do tend to listen to favorite episodes of the podcast more than once, but having spent several hundred bucks to put myself in Brooklyn for the occasion, the quick realization I'd heard all these jokes before might've steamed me. It didn't. Acker and Blacker had chosen three of their strongest individual episodes to reprise. The writing is so sharp, and the performers so uniformly goddamn delightful, that I was laughing too hard to feel hoodwinked. (I do think they should've let us know in advance that this show would be different from the regular LA residency, which, again, features new material each month.)

[caption id="attachment_8981" align="alignleft" width="200"] Ben Blacker: Thrilling Adventure Hour co-scribe, genius.[/caption]

I download TAH directly from the iTunes Store, but if you get them from the Nerdist website, Blacker sometimes writes liner notes. His comments accompanying "Do the Fight Thing" and "Vampire Weekend" make it easy to understand why he and his partner chose these episodes for their out-of-town showcase.

His entry for the former begins:

I love a bottle episode. To me, a bottle episode serves as the best way to show off the strength of your characters and the relationships the writers and actors have built over the course of the series to that point. It could be argued that every episode of Sparks Nevada, Marshal on Mars is a bottle episode (Marc Evan Jackson argued it with me just last night), but there’s something really satisfying about putting all of these complex characters who are in the midst of various emotional journeys into a inescapable place and forcing them to deal with one another.

I agree with all of that. Blacker goes on to comment on some of the casting of that performance from last year. The lineup we saw do the show in Brooklyn Sunday night had a few changes: The principals were all there, but Jon Hodgman replaced Nathan Fillion as Cactoid Jim, and Brewster stood in for Linda Cardellini as "Western-sector novelist Rebecca Rose Rushmore." Instead of Josh Malina as the barkeep, we had... well, I didn't catch his name, but he's probably someone at least semi-famous. UPDATE: Mr. Acker just Tweeted me (!) to identify the barkeep as Jackson Publick of The Venture Bros.

[caption id="attachment_9008" align="alignright" width="199"] No one would ever say Busy Phillips has a face for radio, but she's the Red Plains Rider to me.[/caption]

See, I don't watch that much TV. A lot of what I do see is years or decades old. (I just finished the second season of Breaking Bad,and I've been revisiting a bunch of X-Files episodes from the 90s concurrently with that.) Actors like Brewster or Fillion or Busy Phillips -- so great as Sparks's on-again, off-again sweetheart The Red Plains Rider -- are household names to many, but I was introduced to them through this podcast. (Even though Firefly,with Fillion, seems like something I would almost certainly enjoy. I'll get around to it.)

Anywho, "Vampire Weekend" had some cast changes, too, with Phillips taking on the role of Sadie's vampire friend Donna, originally played by Janet Varney. And Hodgman and Scott Adsit (from 30 Rock and probably lots of other things) stepped into roles originally played by Kids in the Hall veterans Bruce McCullock and Dave Foley.

To sum up: I laughed, I laughed 'til I cried, it was better than Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark...

...which is to damn something truly extraordinary and wonderful, which has brought me no small sum of joy since I discovered it, with faint praise.

Spider-Man, by the way, is not that bad. Well, the music, by some people in whom I have a vested, decades-long interest, is pretty bad. If you find that problematic in a musical.

I didn't see this poster available for sale but I would have snapped it up if I had.

Russian Lark: STC's The Government Inspector, reviewed.

Chris Klimek

[caption id="attachment_8953" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Overdressed and overqualified. (SCOTT SUCHMAN)[/caption] A seminal Russian comedy, updated with jokes about teachers' unions. It didn't do much for me, but there's a lot of venerable talent on that stage.

From today's Washington City Paper, available wherever finer alt-weeklies are given away for free.

Wrestling Guys

Chris Klimek

My review of Woolly Mammoth's production of Kristoffer Diaz's very funny wrestling play The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity ran in the City Paper last Friday, while I was busy cavorting abroad.

Her name? None of your business!

. . .

That was a little joke. Very. Sorry. I was in airports and on planes for 25 hours yesterday, which is yesterday-plus. Cut me some slack, willya?


Chris Klimek

My typical Cliff Bar:

And the Cliff Bar to which I am presently en route:

In other urgent programming news, I'll have a review of Woolly Mammoth's production of Kristoffer Diaz's The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity in Thursday's City Paper. It's pretty great. The play, not my notice, though I have hopes for that, too. But that'll be it for the next couple of weeks, most likely.

I Think About Autism, Therefore I'm Not: Theater J's Body Awareness, reviewed

Chris Klimek

[caption id="attachment_8919" align="alignleft" width="500"] Bedroom cries: MaryBeth Wise, Susan Lynskey & Adi Stein[/caption]I reviewed Theater J's production of Annie Baker's breakout play, Body Awareness, in today's City Paper. Two years ago I reviewed Baker's follow-up, Circle Mirror Transformation, for the Examiner.

A Man's Got to Know His Limitations: On "Go ahead, make my day."

Chris Klimek

[caption id="attachment_8908" align="alignleft" width="500"] Too much sugar in his coffee. From 1983's "Sudden Impact."[/caption] Clint Eastwood's dotty speech at the Republican National Convention was depressing on a number of levels. The least of them being that he croaked out the wrong Dirty Harry catchphrase. I plead my case in the City Paper.

Faux REALS: On the Longevity of the Longjohn-Wearing Hero

Chris Klimek

[caption id="attachment_8866" align="alignleft" width="203"] "...but brother, there are days when I wish I was Plastic Man or the Flash or one of those happy-go-lucky bozos."[/caption]I wrote about Gwydion Suilebhan's new superhero play REALS this week, taking his provocation that "Superhero films are bad for you" as a jumping off point for talking about, well, superhero films. Not quite 10 years ago, I spent the better part of a year trying to write one. It was called Hero Complex, and it was about a guy who becomes convinced he's the illegitimate son of The Gryphon, the mightiest hero around. I was aiming for a bittersweet comedy with touches of doomed romance and magical realism. I pitched it to my professor and fellow students in my screenwriting program as "a Wes Anderson superhero movie."

I wrote two full drafts and many more first acts. I had a version where my hero was in his early 20s and unattached, and a version where he was 40 and married with kids. Neither was very good, but there was a scene here, a line there, that I thought might be worth saving.

Then The Incredibles came out. That's not a film that bears much resemblance to my description of the one I was trying to sweat into existence, but at the time it felt close enough to make me throw up my hands. I loved The Incredibles. I felt certain my screenplay would never get to be that good, no matter how many night and weekends I sacrificed to it on the altar of my crumb-covered, coffee-stained keyboard.

Lots more superhero films have come out since then, including a handful that don't fit squarely into the simple, square, unironic superhero peg: Hancock. Kick-Ass. I don't love those movies, but seeing them did make me feel like maybe the problems of my long-abandoned superhero script were not insoluble. Perhaps one day I'll break my leg on an irradiated square of pavement, and be mysteriously imbued with the power of... patience, as I'm laid up waiting to be healed, to maybe take another crack at it.


Chris Klimek

It's nice to be liked, but it's better by far to get paid. -- Liz Phair, "Shitloads of Money"

'Tis better to give than to receive, goes the bromide. But gift-giving occasions are often stressful for me because I really, really want to pick something good; something that shows the recipient of the gift how much I understand them and respect their taste (secondary objective) and also, if I'm being honest, that they will forevermore remember came from me (PRIMARY objective).

I never give someone a book to keep without inscribing it, for example. I take something the author of the book spent months or years on, then spend maybe 10 minutes thinking of something to write in the flyleaf and sign my name to it. Admittedly, this sounds kind of obnoxious. I used to find the notion of wedding registries and requested gifts kind of gross, but maybe they take that narcissistic element out of gift-giving. Then again, if I really want to to give someone a present, as opposed to feeling obligated to, is it really so terrible if I want that gift to serve as a symbol for our relationship?

Anyway. I had a birthday earlier this month. While I'm way past the point of feeling delighted about packing on another treetrunk-ring, I was moved by the gifts I received, particularly from people I've only met in the last few years. They seem to understand me! And respect my taste!

These presents shall forevermore remind me of them.

[caption id="attachment_8826" align="alignright" width="500"] New graphic novel from Eddie Campbell, the FROM HELL and ALEC cartoonist whose work I've admired for years.[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_8829" align="alignright" width="500"] New graphic novel from Jeff Lemire, whose work I do not know but comes highly recommended from the gift-giver.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_8830" align="alignright" width="500"] Transcripts of filmmaker interviews conducted at the American Film Institute.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_8828" align="alignright" width="500"] Taxonomy of super-powers poster. Helpful.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_8845" align="alignright" width="500"] An original painting![/caption] [caption id="attachment_8846" align="alignright" width="500"] Self-articulating, battery-operated James Brown doll that shakes his hips and sings "I Feel Good." My attempts to reprogram it to sing "Licking Stick" have thus far proven unsuccessful.[/caption]

Emmylou Harris and John Prine at Wolf Trap, reviewed

Chris Klimek

Wow. It appears that the last time Emmylou Harris played at Wolf Trap, in 2008, I tried to corner the market, penning a a review of her then-most-recent album for the Washington Post as well as a Post review of the concert and a profile for The Examiner that I can't find a link to now. I used to have it on this site as a PDF, but then Apple discontinued its .Mac service. It's the circle of life, I suppose. Anyway. Emmylou was at Wolf Trap again this week, co-headlining with her fellow 65-year-old John Prine. Once again, she invited her pal and (she said) favorite singer, John Starling of the Seldom Scene, to perform with her. And once again, I covered the show for the Post.

I Haven't Been on Vacation

Chris Klimek

[caption id="attachment_8801" align="aligncenter" width="500"] With two of my trusted Fringe & Purge Action News and Commentary Squad colleagues, Rachel Manteuffel and Derek Hills. I'm on the right.[/caption]A laughable suggestion, HA HA HA! I wouldn't know a vacation if one punched me in the face and then told me my flight was cancelled! I spent most of July running the City Paper's coverage of the seventh Capital Fringe Festival, archived here if you're curious. I started a Fringe podcast this year, which took more time to produce at an acceptable level of quality than I wanted it to, but that's how it goes. The episodes I think came out the best are here and here and here and here.

And now we've got a Mini Cooper-sized robot trawling around on Mars looking for signs of life and Fringe is over and I'm another year older and because it is August, I am severely questioning my decision to return to DC from glorious, low-humidity coastal Southern California. But I'm back. Semi-regular programming shall resume shortly.

Yes, Him Again: Mike Daisey, Unreliable Narrator.

Chris Klimek

I've already written at length about my reaction to the news that Mike Daisey -- a stage storyteller whose work I've admired for years -- fabricated the most emotionally resonant elements of his tech-manufacturing expose monologue The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs. He's bringing the show back to the place of its birth, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, for a three-week engagement starting next week.

I spent a vacation week from my day job writing about him again. It was not at all restful. It did not help that my usual and customary stress valves -- running and boxing -- were both severely impaired by a record-pummeling 11-day heatwave here in Our Nation's Capital that included the hottest day ever recorded in Washington, DC: 105 degrees Fahrenheit on July 7, if you care. On the plus side, my electricity stayed on.

But I digress! My cover story in this week's Washington City Paper does some chin-scratching about Woolly's decision to stage Daisey's controversial show again, and attempts to explain why I think Daisey remains an important artist despite the poor decisions he made during his perilous crossing of the artist-activist Rubicon. I'll take what he says on stage from now on with a grain of salt, but then I always did. The main thing is I'll keep showing up to hear what he says.

Read all about it here, or pick yourself up a dead-tree copy wherever finer alt-weeklies are given away for free.

AIDS Crisis on Infinite Earths: On The History of Invulnerability and The Normal Heart

Chris Klimek

[caption id="attachment_8733" align="aligncenter" width="500"] SUPERFAMILIAS: David Deblinger and Tim Getman (Stan Barouh/Theater J)[/caption]Any honest critic will occasionally find himself out on a lonely limb, and this week it's my turn. To me and apparently no one else, Arena Stage's The Normal Heart -- a historically vital play about the early years of the AIDS epidemic in New York City -- is morally worthy but artistically wanting. I am girding myself for hate mail.

People sometimes make fun of Ford's Theatre's presidential history plays for being dowdy and pedantic; for being more interested in teaching us A Very Important Lesson than in taking us somewhere. That's how The Normal Heart felt to me, albeit with a lot more crying. (Also, I tend to like the musty presidential histories.) I happen to agree with the play's politics, as I understand them -- though that really shouldn't matter at all -- and I acknowledge in my review that activist/playwright Larry Kramer was writing in a time and place when subtlety would not have been an appropriate or effective response to the nightmare he and his peers were living through.

I just don't think the preachy, shouty play he wrote holds up, removed from that urgent context. Your mileage may, and probably will, vary.

[caption id="attachment_8737" align="alignleft" width="199"] Tim Getman, David Raphaely and David Deblinger. (Stan Barouh/Theater J)[/caption]But I lurrrved Theater J's The History of Invulnerability, which ties in the sad tale of Jerry Siegel getting rooked out of the rights to his wildly lucrative creation, Superman, with an exponentially sadder one, and mostly gets away with it. Ironically, it too makes liberal use of the direct-address lecture format, but it works better here because the characters acknowledge they're speaking to the audience when speaking to the audience instead of being forced to pass off their diatribes as dialogue, like in some plays I could name and already have.

Read all about it in today Daily Pla -- er, Washington City Paper, available (all together now) wherever finer alt-weeklies are given away for free.

Hat tip to my City Paper editor, Jon Fischer, for the title of this post. We thought it a little too inside to use in the paper.

The Beach Boys at Merriweather

Chris Klimek

[caption id="attachment_8649" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Three out of five original Beach Boys are still kicking.[/caption]My review of Friday's night's Beach Boys concert at Merriweather Post Pavilion is in today's Washington Post. I thought it was odd that the 14-piece band played along to the recorded vocal track of Dennis Wilson (d. 1983) singing "Forever" and then to a recording of Carl Wilson (d. 1998) singing "God Only Knows," but the fact that "Heroes and Villains" made the setlist inclines me to forgive them anything. Here's my favorite cover of "God Only Knows," performed by Elvis Costello and the Brodsky Quartet in I think 1995.


SILVERDOCS: On Joe Papp in Five Acts

Chris Klimek

[caption id="attachment_8749" align="alignright" width="300"] Joseph Papp, 1921-1991[/caption]Man, I really miss going to SILVERDOCS. I don't think I've been since 2009, maybe 2008. Late June has always been a crunch for me since I started handling the City Paper's coverage of the Capital Fringe Festival, which runs the last three weeks of July, back in 2010. I did review a screener of one doc, Joe Papp in Five Acts, about the much beloved founder of New York's Shakespeare in the Park and then The Public Theater.

Blame It on Cain: Round House's Double Indemnity, reviewed

Chris Klimek

Here's my City Paper review of Round House Theatre's production of the stage adaptation of Double Indemnity, based on James M. Cain's Depression-era serialized novel. Some plot developments may seem unfamiliar to those of us who only know the story from Billy Wilder's iconic 1944 film noir, which departs from Cain's structure in ways that're all to the good. There's nothing wrong with this play, really, but it's hardly an essential document the way Wilder's movie is.

There Will Be Acid-Blood: Musing on Prometheus

Chris Klimek

[caption id="attachment_8551" align="alignright" width="218"] I owned this.[/caption]Over at NPR Monkey See today, I write about about the Sisyphean task Ridley Scott has taken on in trying to make his breathlessly-awaited, origins-of-life epic Prometheus compelling enough to compete with my adolescent obsession with the seminal films of the ALIEN franchise. (Ongoing, sadly. My fascination, not the franchise. But that's ongoing too, obviously.) I had fun writing it. I hope you like it. Prometheus is the sort of problem film where you know that diagnosing its failings and parsing its mysteries is the greater, more lasting pleasure than actually watching it (though I did enjoy watching it), a trait it shares with the latter two ALIEN joints. The best I can hope for is to go to my grave having purchased only one home-video version. If you're interested in used VHS copies of the original release cuts or extended special editions of ALIEN or ALIENS, or the ALIEN Quadrilogy DVD set, I will totally give you a deal.

The Full Monty: Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play, reivewed

Chris Klimek

[caption id="attachment_8544" align="alignright" width="256"] "Ehhhhhhhhxcellent."[/caption]However precipitous its decline, The Simpsons remains the only TV show my entire family will sit in the same room and watch together. (Mom, I suspect, might just be going along to get along.) But one needn't have so intimate an association with TV's longest-lived comedy to appreciate the grim genius of Anne Washburn's Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play. I review Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company's world-premiere production in today's Washington City Paper, available wherever finer alt-weeklies are given away for free. Sorry about the ugly split infinitive that crept in there, you guys. Oh, and I should find out tomorrow whether of not I won the AltWeekly Award that I'm up for. I'd be honored to take third place behind the other two finalists in my category -- arts criticism, circulation 50,000 and up -- but upon reflection I would rather take second. Or first, even. Please cross all six fingers for me.

That's a little Simpsons joke, there. Very.