SON OF THE BITCH . . . SKID MARK AFTER DARK
Bitch With Rich, starring Richard Cotovsky (aka Skid Mark), began in 1986 as a sort of cross between your standard TV interview show and Ripley's Believe It or Not--or so it appeared to me at the time. Its weirdness was obviously connecting with a substantial segment of some audience, though I was missing it completely. Then someone informed me that it helped if you'd seen the David Letterman Show--the defining experience of the sensibility addressed by Bitch With Rich. Son of the Bitch . . . Skid Mark After Dark resembles Saturday Night Live and sometimes even Laugh-In (from back in the days when I was hip and those other people were square) more than it does any of the talk shows--there's no more audience participation--but now I'm able to recognize its appeal to the same youthful sensibility, which refuses to tolerate crimes many of us have forgotten.
Far from the misbegotten child it purports to be, this latest effort from Mary-Arrchie Theatre is a perfectly logical development from its predecessor. A show like Bitch With Rich, which deliberately encouraged its audience-participants to fling shit about indiscriminately, sooner or later accumulates an awful lot of shit. Call it bad vibrations, leftover karma, or whatever--even when it's not your anger, even when it's not directed at you, witnessing this much fury and frustration leaves craters on the surface of your soul that don't erode for a long time (as police officers, combat soldiers, and customer-service reps can attest). Before these toxic wastes poison your humanity, something must be done to restore some kind of order to the universe.
Cotovsky has found a way to use the badass residue of Bitch With Rich as fuel for a new and daring counterbitch. Performed by the 14-member Skid Mark Players, this series of skits is scary, but the scariest part is the knowledge that they were inspired by extempore interviews with theatergoers--in other words, by us. And these players are not content merely to point their fingers--instead they personify the social malignancies twisting the bowels of our society.
Some of these are fairly mild. My favorite sketch tells of a male so sensitive and considerate that his lover finally pleads with him to be more earthy: "I don't want to make love tonight," she says. "I want to fuck!" He obligingly slaps her, calls her harsh names, and rattles the bedstead, asking afterward, "I didn't really hurt you, did I?" Another sketch, "Gumption," depicts a young man who charms a woman by praising her "incredible, unique spontaneity." Then he recites an elaborately choreographed fantasy-projection of their future together--and is surprised and indignant when the lady spontaneously rejects his scenario and takes a hike. Men are not the only beasts, however: in another sketch, two women are both so absorbed in talking about sex that they fail to notice the male odalisque posing right in their line of vision. And in "Feminist Police," four members of that patrol swoop down on a group of crotch-mouthed men and methodically beat them up, one by one. The saddest character of the evening is also the most familiar: Bill Bland, the supply- department manager who lacks the finesse to communicate with the executives but cannot speak the language of his subordinates either. His only friend and confidant is the janitor, who carries out the requisition for the bullets with which the lonely Mr. Bland will blow his brains out.
Many creatures far more repulsive crawl out from under the rocks overturned by Skid Mark. A group of men propose increasingly sadistic ways of dealing with a bull that has kicked a boy to death, ignoring one member's pleas that the bull was only acting according to its nature. A gang of teenagers viciously ridicule their absurdly handicapped peer--"Sausagehead," who literally has a giant smoky link growing from his scalp--laughing uproariously at their own sly mockery: "Are you hot or just spicy?" Meanwhile the pathetic object of this derision, unaware of his humiliating nickname, overflows with gratitude at being in with the in crowd. A beggar cons other beggars out of their meager funds. Even poorer and hungrier savages eat humans daring even to speak of food--after devouring a man whose hands bear the smell of the sandwich he's just consumed, they set out after a young mother coming from a La Leche League meeting. The most chilling of the skits, however, is the monologue by a man who has murdered his lover for telling him that he "makes love like a frog." There are no Prince Charmings in this one.
Looking through the microscope at all this is the guru himself, Skid Mark. He imparts the moral: "Our journey is spattered with sporadic moments of pleasure. On either side of these moments are long trails of pain. In order to derive maximum pleasure from our journey, we must learn to find pleasure even in our pain." This dictum is immediately illustrated by a sketch of a couple who amuse themselves by wrestling one another--ritual combat, so to speak. Skid Mark adds, "If you think too much about what you're doing, you'll probably kill yourself."
If this is true, the Skid Mark Players are to be commended all the more for their willingness to wallow around in personalities they must find as repugnant as we do. The handsome David Grieco shows himself an accomplished mime, transforming himself into the survivor of a man- eat-man world and again into the homicidal toad-man. Ron Bieganski --who seems to be making a career of playing geeks, notably in Detective Story and Modigliani, also at Mary- Arrchie--stays true to form by portraying the grotesque Sausagehead. Andrew Sten does a fine job as a man who wants to join the piercing-fetish crowd but is afraid of needles, and Jeff Strong makes Bill Bland into a figure of quiet desperation we all recognize. Cotovsky, in addition to bringing the tablets down from the mount, also has some fine moments as the poor-on-poor swindler and as a windup life-size doll of--who else?--Skid Mark himself.
Son of the Bitch (which changes nightly, each evening's program selected from a list of possibilities by some oracular process) is an ugly show about ugly people, and many audience members may not feel comfortable sharing the risk of putting on the monster's clothes and maybe discovering that they fit. "As we trek through this cesspool called life, we approach the naked truth we are seeking," Skid Mark tells us. "As we approach that truth, we realize that we do not want to know it. But we have one thing available to us, and that is choice. We can join, we can bitch, or we can die. If you join, you must give up a portion of your mind. Me--I'm gonna bitch!" I joined, and have given up a part of myself in doing so--but the kind of articulate and courageous bitching Cotovsky and company do serves to remind us we are not perfect. Little in this world is, to be sure, but there's no fault in trying to make it better.