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The Book of Blanche


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White Noise

at the Roxy

Television-based humor always strikes me as comedy's line of least resistance. Spoofing the boob tube is a thankless, pointless task because TV thrives on its own hip irony; no matter how you mock it, TV always ends up its own worst parody. Besides, television takeoffs are not only easy to whip up but--as if to prove there's a law of comic compensation--they're just as quick to wear out.

So, just when I thought I'd nailed down a Theory of the Lameness of Television Satire, along comes White Noise's The Book of Blanche, a show that not only grooves its wacky way through the tube (and assorted projectors) but, to confirm the compliment of imitation, provides its own state-of-the-art video and animation. And suddenly I'm a believer.

Brought to you by the folks who perpetrated the recent nine-month wonder Singin' in the Brain, Book of Blanche offers audiences six comics in a very crowded musical comedy/video adventure/scattershot satire--an embarrassment of comic riches that's nearly too much for its own good.

In fact, you need a flow chart to chart the action--there are at least four comedies unpeacefully coexisting inside Book of Blanche, and each deserves its own show. The plots turn on the fact that the book being written by Blanche, a pulp romance novelist, becomes the show itself. (This device is similar to one in Steppenwolf's Killers, in which the work of a pulp writer, played by Robert Breuler, rips off everything happening in his crazy boardinghouse.)

The chaos begins as Blanche, searching for her little dog Wally, accidentally tumbles Poltergeist-style into her TV set. (As she wanders through this electron Oz, Blanche moves from stage to video screen to stage again with awesome smoothness.) In Televisionland Blanche-Alice-Dorothy encounters diverse video creatures, who themselves are looking for lost treasures and encountering enemies along the way.

Blanche first stumbles into This Cross for Hire, a hilarious, hard-boiled "Wormer Brothers" spoof of film noir. Cross's antihero is Father Damien, a detective-priest with a fixation on Jesus, a bed-wetting problem, and a still unquenched lust for the Nun That Got Away. Damien's enemy, it seems, is his effete brother Dorian, an oily cur who taunts Damien about his loose bladder and defrocked libido.

Blanche next meets Moodge, a refugee from Beach Blanket Bombshelter, a 1963 flick about postnuclear mutant surfer teens. Radiation, it seems, is turning Moodge into a blond werewolf. Worse, he's lost his bimbo girlfriend, Bunny, to creepy Creedy, a onetime doofus who now, thanks to Armageddon, has become the bullyboy leader of the beach-terrorizing Pus Boys.

The third genre Blanche falls into is Robot Nanny, a sickeningly wholesome sitcom (complete with canned laughter and loud, telegraphed, punch lines) about the birdbrained Henderson family. The android of the title desperately wants to become a real woman despite the efforts of Pigsley, the Hendersons' bratty son. Nanny falls under the influence of Conehead-like extraterrestrials, (two sidesplittingly daffy, reversed-head video puppets); these alien clowns program Nanny to find them the Chosen One who will supposedly give birth to their savior.

So Moodge, Robot Nanny, Damien, and Blanche team up to search for, respectively, Bunny, the Chosen One, the ex-nun, and Wally. They also battle with their nemeses Creedy, Pigsley, Dorian, and Mr. Polanski, Blanche's dog-hating neighbor (all played with rubber-faced abandon by Jim O'Heir, who also depicts the amoral TV executive who wants to seduce greedy Bunny).

The intrepid foursome get temporarily trapped in, of course, a smarmy-sadistic quiz show, The Big Easy. When they're reduced to playing extras in a numbingly stupid sex comedy, Blanche, always ready with a soap-opera homily, rallies them into rebellion. The terrific and hysterical chase scene that ensues seamlessly segues into some great "blue-screen" video effects, pell-mell stage action, and even some wizard original animation. (You've never seen anything like it--no hype.)

As the bumbling aliens find an unlikely Chosen One, Blanche brings her book to a happy ending, and, a high-stepping "Genesis" dance number concludes the show.

If White Noise didn't pull this off with such crazed skill, this rambunctious, breakneck tour de force would feel like too many styles coming at us too fast and for no good reason. I mean it's not as if the S.C.T.V.-style dialogue by Pat Cannon, Neo Crowley, and O'Heir exactly dazzles with rapier wit, and it's not as if the comics' unsubtle mugging convulses the crowd from start to stop (though, to say the least, no dull stuff mars this romp).

But what could well make Book of Blanche a bona fide cult show is the go-for-broke collective ingenuity that combines Tom Trucco's cutting-edge film-video tricks, Jim Richardson's designer animation, and Jim Garner's superb sound-and-light show. And with some of the sharpest comic songs since Mark Nutter's Zoo shows, Charlie Silliman's score ranges from 60s pop to 80s rap (though the latter, an off-the-wall hymn to free will, feels a tad racist when done by whites).

Director Christine Zander shrewdly shapes Book's TV stereotypes. Jeff Johnson's nebbishy Blanche, for example, is a complete comic character, a demented Dorothy (a la Martin Short) who can write her way back to Kansas. As the self-crucified Father Damien, Cannon gives a zany portrait of constipated celibacy. Megan Moore's teen mutant Bunny proves both winsome and wolflike, Crowley's cool-hand Moodge loses his cool with comic clumsiness, and Ruth Feinzig's Robot Nanny shows a cybernetic conviction that's more than programming.

And I can't ignore the real, cute-as-a-button pug dog that plays Wally--he's one of those scene-stealing mutts that actors rightly dread.

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