Montel, Sally, Ricki, Jerry - beware! .
"Klondike and Snow," developed by the group Bill Hussy Stephenson, and now on stage at five myles, takes a long, hard look at the peculiar phenomenon of daytime television interview and talk shows. The result is a play that, director Stephanie Mnookin says, "walks the line between disturbing and funny." Whichever way you look at it, the show is definitely ready for prime time.
"Klondike and Snow" was created through improvisation by five talented performers - Patrick Ferrell, Larry Grimm, Eliot Laurence, Katherine Wessling and Mnookin. Inspired by the story of two abandoned polar bears (Klondike and Snow) who achieved fame in Denver before they finally found a home in Sea World, the group went on to explore similar situations where people might gain fame and notoriety through media appearances.
There’s the cross-country biker (Eliot) who serves as a leitmotif throughout the show. He endorses "Goo," a nutritional supplement. He never turned to Jesus in those "dark and difficult days" when he didn’t get along with his mother (who now travels with him as he makes the TV circuit) and he employs a battery of workers to manage his mail and maintain his Web site.
Shelley is a fat girl who is really a "slender princess" under her hefty exterior (played by the definitely not overweight Mnookin).
"People think I’m a slob, or I’m dirty, or I don’t care about myself," she wails.
Ferrell plays a man who is so hyper-allergic that he must live in a protective body suit. He responds to the interviewer’s persistent questions with a detailed account of his malady, hard-pressed to admit that eventually he might die because of it.
And Mnookin and Wessling, sporting platinum wigs, portray conjoined twins who have been separated but are still haunted by the sordid details of their past, which they insist on pursuing.
Set designer Valerie Green has effortlessly recreated the mood and the illusion of a TV studio, with colored lights hung from the ceiling, tape on the floor and a few stools and wheeled chairs. A glass screen, transported about the stage to occasionally frame the actors, abruptly turns the theater audience into a television studio audience.
Daniel Antonio Srebnick’s original music comes in at all the right moments and is in admirable harmony with the tone of the interviews.
Although "Klondike and Snow" was workshopped at the Ontological Downstairs Series and at New Actor’s Workshop, and much of the text was derived from improvisation, additional sources are "Klondike and Snow," a documentary video, a National Geographic polar bear video and the Montel Williams show (where the polar bear story was extensively aired). But it is the genius of this production that brings all these sources to life.
Grimm, who does most of the interviewing, is particularly adept at capturing all the ticks and mannerisms of TV talk-show hosts. But the interviewees are also excellent as they reveal their innermost secrets and bare their battered souls.
Andy Warhol famously said that every person has his 15 minutes of fame. Apparently these minutes are something many people crave. What else could explain the bizarre behavior one sees on some of the raunchier daytime shows?
But what motivates those who watch total strangers make total fools of themselves before millions of people? For one thing, as "Klondike and Snow" proves so eloquently and hilariously, these shows can be quite entertaining. For another, the antics and anxiety of these people either touch us, or make us feel happy and content in our knowledge that we are nothing like these exhibitionist fools.
Like all good comedy, "Klondike and Snow" has a painful edge. Why do we make heroes out of polar bears and bikers? What is so compelling about a lonely fat girl who writes poetry? Why are we fascinated by the details of disease? Perhaps the people in front of the screen are just as ridiculous as those in front of the camera.
Happily, "Klondike and Snow" makes no pretense to having the answer to these probing questions. Unlike the shows it parodies, "Klondike and Snow" does not preach and audience opinion and participation is not encouraged.
"Klondike and Snow" plays Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7 pm through Nov. 9. Tickets are $15. Five myles is located at 558 St. Johns Place. Call (212) 615-6738 for tickets and further information.