Kent Roberts turns hyperactivity into art
in his one-man show "294 Characters in 60 Minutes"
now at the Brooklyn Lyceum. The comedic tour-de-force starts
at a fast pace and becomes more frenetic and furious as the show
"It was a challenge," admits Roberts, a recent Brown University graduate.
The hour-long marathon consists of 20 30-second sketches, 24 25-second sketches, 30 20-second sketches, 40 15-second sketches, 60 10-second sketches and 125 five-second sketches. Phew!
The sketches have names like "Psychoburgerbabblers," "Stupidity Syndromist" and "Mink-Clad Mama." They highlight the hypocrisy, consumerism, bigotry, religious fanaticism, intellectual snobbery and just plain foolishness that plague our society. Many are funny in a Groucho Marx, Three Stooges, Abbot and Costello or Woody Allen kind of way.
Let’s face it, with 294 characters, there’s bound to be something for everyone.
Roberts has a supple body, expressive features and a voice capable of several registers and a variety of accents, both regional and foreign. Most of all, he’s got stamina.
Using only a black backdrop, a folding chair, a stool, a cup of water and a batch of papers, Roberts races from character to character. He’s a child, an adult, a man, a woman, bold, shy, awkward, self-possessed and ridiculous.
Watching Roberts perform is as exhausting as it is entertaining. By the end, it’s a toss-up who will give out first - Roberts or the audience.
In fact, "294 Characters" is tiring in a very real sense - both physically and mentally. There are so many characters appearing and disappearing so quickly that they eventually blur into a haze of fictional humanity. The visual and auditory overload makes the mind shut down.
A few of Roberts’ characters are quite brilliant. Many are forgettable or disappear so quickly they never have time to register in the first place.
"294 Characters in 60 Minutes" is more of a dramatic exercise than dramatic art. It has a TV game show quality that might be quite appealing to kids if Roberts wanted to clean it up a bit. But it’s obvious Roberts had a lot of fun with his sketches, and much of that is projected to the audience.
When asked what prompted him to write such a piece, Roberts does not articulate a clear response. But his grin says it all. Once he was challenged by the idea it was sort of like Mt. Everest, one suspects. It was there and it had to be conquered.
Have a cup of coffee and go see it.
’Star Trek’: A funny Enterprise
In September 1966, NBC TV boldly went where no man had gone before and aired the first sci-fi series written for an adult audience and dealing with current social issues. Set 300 years in the future, "Star Trek" followed the adventures of the starship U.S.S. Enterprise and its crew: Captain James T. Kirk, First Officer Spock (a half-breed Vulcan-Earthling), Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy and a host of supporting regulars.
Despite its present cult status, "Star Trek" was not an instant hit. In fact, even in its peak season, ’66-’67, "Star Trek" placed number 52, behind such long-forgotten programs as "Iron Horse" and "Mr. Terrific." In 1969, the series was cancelled due to declining audiences and sponsor dissatisfaction with the show’s disproportionate number of young viewers with no meaningful income.
Unlike much of its more successful competition, however, "Star Trek" has enjoyed a phenomenal afterlife that includes syndication, annual conventions attended by thousands of "Trekkies," several films and enough spin-offs to keep Trekkies happy for many years to come.
"I Am Star Trek," written and directed by Rick Vorndran and produced by Park Slopers Kathleen Standard and Amy Overman, chronicles the chaotic behind-the-scenes life of the legendary show. Nine actors play the over 50 characters who helped and hindered the development of the show.
Everyone is there - star William Shatner, co-star Leonard Nimoy, writer and creator Gene Roddenberry and his girlfriend-wife Majel Barrett, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, and writers Bob Justman, D.C. Fontana and David Gerrold, to name a few. The audience even meets Patrick Stewart, star of "Star Trek: The Next Generation," and, in a hilarious spoof, Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader and the "Star Wars" gang.
Despite the big list of characters, the play is mostly about Roddenberry, who is portrayed as a womanizer, alcoholic and plagiarizer, but also the spark that brought "Star Trek" to life and kept it glowing.
"I Am Star Trek" has the same precocious adolescent exuberance familiar to "Saturday Night Live" fans. And a similar sense of humor.
Both Trekkies and non-Trekkies will enjoy this irreverent account. Trekkies will recognize familiar scenes from the series. Non-Trekkies will get a big laugh at the pitiless picture of the geeks and freaks who populate "Star Trek" conventions, the foibles of the cast and the inanity of some of the shows and especially the movies and spin-offs.
"I Am Star Trek" is good, wholesome and not-so-wholesome fun. It appeals to those who know the series - if only through reruns - as well as those of us who remember the stars when they were in better shape and weren’t pitching Priceline.com.
"294 Characters in 60 Minutes" plays Fridays through Nov. 30 at 8 pm at the Brooklyn Lyceum, 227 Fourth Ave. at Second Street. Tickets are $5. For reservations, call (718) 857-4816.
"I Am Star Trek" performances continue on Nov. 24 at 8 pm and Nov. 25 at 5 pm at The Kraine Theater, 85 East Fourth St., Manhattan. Tickets are $15, students and seniors $10. For reservations, call (212) 539-7686 or visit www.httheater.org.