SAN FRANCISCO – As part of its “Absurdist Season 2000,” San Francisco’s iconoclastic Exit Theater, located in the heart of the Tenderloin, opened the world premiere Tuesday of East Bay playwright/actor Dan Carbone’s energetic but disappointing farce “Salvador Dali Talks to the Animals in the Heaven on Top of Heaven.”
In “Talks to the Animals,” Spanish painter Salvador Dali (Carbone) is brought back to life during a television talk show. The play then careens through an eccentric, disorderly and subjective retelling of Dali’s life, as filtered through Carbone’s offbeat satiric imagination.
Director John Sowle and an energetic cast give the performance everything they’ve got, but no amount of broad acting, sight gags and silly antics can compensate for a script that is basically a not-very-funny, two-hour, episodic, sketch comedy segment.
In “Salvador Dali Talks to the Animals,” following the bizarre talk show segment, we visit Dali at home with his dysfunctional family, transposed somehow into a television sit com complete with laugh track. There his oversexed oedipal daughter (Marin Van Young) eats breakfast cereal out of her brother’s (Russell Pachman) underwear.
Soon a cow (John Baumann) who was traumatized during the television talk show flees to Africa to become a tourist guide. There he’s joined by Dali’s family where he tells them, in the form of a puppet show, a traumatic dream from his childhood.
At one point, Dali gives a lecture to the audience on the history of art, complete with slides, identifying where he fits in. Later, his wife Gala has sex with a stranger in a cab.
The highlight of the evening is a scatological poem about a dog who eats tinsel off the Christmas tree, and the outcome of that.
But “Salvador Dali Talks to the Animals” contains no real thesis or story. It’s a series of episodic skits. The play is surreal, but not funny. The jokes are often labored.
The characters, even Dali, who holds center stage for much of the evening, are cartoon characters. Carbone’s Dali is a caricature who talks about himself in the third person in grand, exaggerated phrases. Two hours of that starts to wear thin.
The stock satirical situations, such as the dysfunctional nuclear family, are often familiar and recognizable.
As far as the writing goes, the opening moment of each segment is usually the strongest moment. Then, typically, the “scenelet” meanders for a while, before stopping. A little story structure would have helped this piece. A crazy fantasy doesn’t necessarily make a play.
Director John Sowle has done his best to breathe life into the piece. Everyone tries hard to be funny. Carbone performs Dali with lots of grimacing and a squeaky Spanish accent. He’s sort of a half-way-there Father Guido Sarducci. Berkeleyan and Shotgun Players regular Marin Van Young, who is a skillful actor, turns in some of the show’s strongest work as Dali’s sexual daughter Twinkle Ann, and later as a trendy guest at a party thrown by Spanish King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia. Paul Gerrior has nice moments as talk show host Zachary Strayhorn.
Carbone won a Best of the Fringe award for his piece “Up from the Ground” at last year’s San Francisco Fringe Festival, but this long and complicated journey through the life of Salvador Dali asks for a lot of indulgence from an audience.
“Salvador Dali Talks to the Animals in the Heaven on Top of Heaven” plays Tuesday and Wednesday, 7 p.m., through May 24, at Exit Stage Left, 156 Eddy St. (at Taylor), San Francisco. For tickets and information, call 415-931-2699.