Never has there been a more perfect show, site-specific in fact, for La Val’s Subterranean than Impact Theatre’s current production of Jukebox Stories, Prince Gomilvilas’ performance of his own prose alongside Brandon Patton singing songs and the interaction between the two—as well as with the audience.
In the tight space under the Northside eatery and student hangout, the set for Jukebox Stories is like an installation of a basement rec room or in-law apartment inhabited by a desperately single guy. Posters hang above a couple of couches strewn with clothes and pillows that spill onto the floor, under TV trays of bottled water and Jim Beam, plastic cups of beer by candles, to mix with scattered newspapers, an upended chair, a forlorn laundry basket and vagrant luggage, besides a few stray playing cards for good measure.
Friday night was like old home week, with the performers onstage well before curtain and wandering through the audience, bantering with spectators and welcoming friends, themselves busy greeting each other.
The ambiance defines much of the show, or vice versa. It’s as modular as the furniture for student housing, so much so that the performers pass around a box with the song and story titles, letting the audience draw the next selection—Jukebox Stories, indeed.
Prince Gomilvilas is well-known in theater circles here and beyond. He’s been associated with Theater Bay Area and his full-length plays have been produced in cities around America and in Singapore, from which the pull line: “Prince Gomilvilas is a brilliant writer of comic monologues” from The Straits Times.
That’s the tone of much of Prince’s solo portion of the act, despite its casual conversational sense that engages the audience, like comic monologues or scenarios for humorous sketches. At one point, Prince reads a story in the form of a letter off the page, acknowledging a college rejection letter, but begging for reconsideration, even mentioning an enclosed gift certificate and inviting the admissions officer to visit the restaurant where he works under the domination of his screaming brother, just to see what a good worker he is, and what a pitiful life he can be rescued from.
The stealthy vaudeville of the presentation, undoubtedly the work of talented director Kent Nicholson, is one apparent reason for its appeal to a relaxed yet excitable audience. Another lies in the wry songs and offhanded delivery of Brandon Patton, who--when he’s not whimsically crooning “I used to play in a rock ‘n roll band ... All the time I was just saying/Help me get paid to talk about myself”--acts the sidekick, cohost, even butt of Prince’s catty tongue.
But there’s something of a conceptual side, too, to Prince’s appeal. With pop socio-political notions going around to explain the electoral success of W. and Arnold, like the iconic “class president” theory, it would seem that Prince draws his strength from being the antithesis of media friendly, becoming the nonentity, the talk radio complainer who somehow has arrived as host of a game show, or of late night itself, hip by default.
His stories can be sordid, pointed and funny. Mingling with the mannerisms of nerdy camp, Prince will plunge into the tale of how his soft-spoken, shy little sister (”the way a little Asian girl should be”) charged a breast-implant operation to their mother’s credit card, improving her self-esteem to the degree of becoming the head trainer for Hooters, from whose training manual Prince proceeds to read selections he claims to have copied down while browsing.
Or, after Brandon passes around Bingo cards that have the stories and song titles in the squares, Prince spins out “Gambling Everything For Love,” in which his uncle, a compulsive gambler—as are all Asians, he assures us, making every Indian casino “look like Little Manila in there”—finds himself pinned down by Prince’s mother and acquisitive aunt, who have concluded he’s under an evil love spell, and defies them by yammering fake Arabic while they wrap his head with a dress belonging to Prince’s dead grandmother, the antidote to the hex ...
In theory, the fun never has to stop until they call it quits. And so on, after intermission and through the evening, punctuated by Brandon’s songs, more Bingo, further random byplay with, and picking on, each other and the audience.
Presented by Impact Theatre at 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday through Dec. 10 at
La Val’s Subterranean, 1834 Euclid Ave.
$10-$14. 464-4468. www.impacttheatre.com.