Late With Lance

MarinoBy Michael Hillyer

Winter has reportedly ended, according to the calendar, but I am not feeling the love. Spring arrived in New York a few days ago with a snowstorm, and the polar chill still lingers. Like a bear, I have been hibernating through this endless season of cold, making a beeline home from work and rarely stirring outdoors, except when it is absolutely necessary. Like to shovel the snow.

I finally just had to force myself out of the house.

The mercury read a brisk 32 degrees when I set out from my lair in Brooklyn to catch Peter Michael Marino’s new show at the Triple Crown Underground, and it was dropping fast. I hurried to the subway, but a depleted transit card I haven’t used in weeks required me to stand in line at the token booth, causing me to miss the train. I was now running late, and in real danger of getting to the show on time. On time equals late. You want to get there at least a half hour early, so you can take advantage of the cocktail hour before you go downstairs. Mr. Marino’s hour-long show, Late With Lance, plays at 7PM on Sundays, so a drink before (and perhaps another one during) will get you back upstairs to the restaurant just in time for dinner at eight.

The last time I sat in the cellar at the Triple Crown to watch Mr. Marino, where he is something of a pop-up fixture, he was performing Desperately Seeking The Exit, his painfully hilarious recounting of his West End theatrical disaster, the musical Desperately Seeing Susan. This modest basement venue was used by Mr. Marino to develop that show prior to an appearance at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Late With Lance, similarly destined for Scotland in a few months, is a reprisal of the Lance Jonathan character Mr. Marino created and performed in two giddily funny cabaret shows in the 1990’s, for which he won a Backstage Bistro Award and numerous MAC nominations. Nearly twenty years later, Lance is no longer the enthusiastic, helplessly amateur, aspiring performer auditioning badly for blockbuster shows that he once was. Nowadays, he is an aging cruise ship performer sporting a toupee and a smile that has begun to quiver a little around the edges. Think Richard Simmons, minus the success.

The setting for this hour of silliness is a talk show, which Lance is hosting on his day off from the cruise ship, hoping that his guests (Liza Minnelli, Hugh Jackman and Miami Sound Machine) will appear any minute. When they don’t, members of the audience are enlisted for an onstage interview, but they have to answer questions Lance has prepared for Liza, Hugh and MSM. Mr. Marino clearly enjoys the risk and give-and-take of this kind of improvisation, but Lance’s tributes to musical theatre, which intersperse the evening, are more successful. In one, he performs a one-man version of The Sound Of Music in under five minutes, in another he sings an exhaustive list-song of famous people known by only one name (from Cher to Hitler) and finally, when he has been called back to the ship to go on for Bloody Mary, who has called in sick for the South Pacific review onboard, he performs “I’m Not Going” from Dreamgirls as he strips down to a grass skirt and coconut-bra getup and accidentally tears off his wig, revealing Lance to be not so much Richard Simmons in distress as Michael Keaton in Birdman, minus all that running through Times Square. This was both painful and funny, an expression of one of Mr. Marino’s real gifts; playing a character who is going through a life in show biz wearing his heart on his sleeve, handling disappointment but never giving in to disillusionment, even though he probably should.

There is no doubt that the show needs further development and tightening, but there is promise enough here to encourage you to get down to the Triple Crown while Late With Lance is still playing, and help Mr. Marino hone this stuff into something more focused. The context of the show could be more grounded, perhaps, as things get absurdly silly in a hurry, and a very modest set design wouldn’t hurt, either. Neither, I suspect, would the presence of a director, who could perhaps marshal these goofy proceedings into a sharper hour of comedy. But having said that, there are plenty of laughs to be had here, and as I threw in my donation (it’s pay-what-you-can on the way out) I exited the Triple Crown Underground a happier man than I had entered, if a little mystified about the point of the whole thing.

My replenished transit card allowed me a quick entry after the show onto a Brooklyn-bound Q train, where I settled back in my seat to try to make sense of what I had just seen. Two quick express stops later, the train had just begun its ten-minute trip over the Manhattan Bridge when three performance gymnasts took over the car I was in. You know, the loud hip-hop music and young men in hoodies taking turns throwing themselves around the straphanger poles of a moving train. Normally, I try to sleep through it. But these three guys were not only good; they were also pretty funny. “Don’t try this at home,” one said. “Try this at work so you can collect if you hurt yourself.” You just had to smile. As I watched them flying through the air, bantering and interacting with the passengers, the nighttime, lit-up skyline of lower Manhattan passing behind them like a twinkling backdrop as the Q train rumbled across the bridge, the whole audience attentive and connected with an impromptu, fun vibe, it slowly dawned on me. It’s the same thing; there is no point, except to entertain people, and then pass the hat.

I am so glad I got out of the house. I had actually gotten two shows out of this short evening, and as I walked home from the subway I could feel how much my spirits had lifted since I left the house a couple of hours earlier. Was either show perfect? No. Was I happy to be there? Yes. In spite of the cold, I noticed the first blush of small buds that have formed on some of the trees as I walked past them, and I smiled to think it was soon going to really be Spring, and how ready I am for it, especially after tonight. Goodbye, winter, and thank you, Lance. Have fun in Scotland!

LATE WITH LANCE! Performs Sundays, March 8, 22, 29 at 7pm. At the Triple Crown Underground 330 7th Avenue (near 28th Street) NYC. Pay-what-you-can. No reservations. More info: www.LanceShow.com

Michael Hillyer

Author: Michael Hillyer

Michael Hillyer was an Associate Director at the 29th Street Rep, Blue Heron Arts Center and the Wings Theatre Company, and has directed elsewhere in New York at Playhouse 91, Theatre For The New City, the William Redfield Theatre, Douglas Fairbanks Theatre, the Nat Horne Theatre and the Irish Arts Center. His long-running horror-movie send-up at the American Renaissance Theatre, SLASHER, THE SPLATTER ROCK MUSICAL, was revived Off-Broadway at the Perry Street Theatre, choreographed by Susan Stroman. He has also directed at the John Drew Theatre (As You Like It), Millbrook Summer Playhouse (Morning's At Seven), Thomaston Opera House (Born Yesterday), the Palace Theatre in Stamford, CT (The Boy Who Cried Elvis) and the Palace Theatre in Manchester, NH (Shenandoah, Man Of La Mancha), as well as at Cornell, Columbia and Seton Hall Universities. He has written articles about New York theatre for Backstage and The Village Voice.

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