The Michigan Daily - Friday, April 22, 1997 - 21
'Guff man' taps into quirky h umor
Guest, cast poke fun at small-town hicks in hilarious mockumentary
By Geordy Gantsoudes
Daily Arts Writer
Before MTV stopped showing
videos and became the ultimate teen-
exploitation network, the only non-
video entertainment it provided was
what became known as a "rockumen-
tary." These rocku-
mentaries brought R1
Joe and Jane
America into the
"behind - the
scenes" lives of the
rock stars. In the
early '80s, Rob Reiner and Christopher
Guest created the ultimate rockumen-
tary, "This Is Spinal Tap.""Tap" took us
through the twisted lives of a fictional
heavy-metal band in what would
become one of the most original movies
the decade produced.
When Guest took on a project sim-
ilar to "Tap" (which he also wrote), it
was exciting to see the Second
Coming of "Tap" in the form of
"Waiting for Guffman," a documen-
tary-style movie based on people's
lives in a small, fictional Missouri
town approaching its 150th anniver-
sary. In order to celebrate this impor-
tant day in Missouri's history, the
At Ann Arbor 1 & 2
town hires Corky
St. Claire (a hilar-
ious Guest) to put
The opening 30 minutes are a non-
stop laugh riot, introducing us to the
ensemble cast: Dr. Allen Pearl (Eugene
Levy), travel agents Ron and Sheila
Albertson (Fred Willard and Catherine
O'Hara), Dairy Queen matron Libby
Mae (Parker Posey) and others.
Through brief interviews, we find out
interesting tidbits about the town and
Ron and Sheila, though travel
agents, have never left Blaine -- ever.
Libby Mae wants to introduce a non-
fat, low-calorie Blizzard to the DQ,
and everyone wants to know the mys-
terious whereabouts of the effeminate
Corky's "wife." She is kind of like
that friend of yours who insisted he
had sex with some girl in Canada -
who doesn't have a phone so, no, you
can't call her. Guest is infallible as
This is where the movie and direc-
tor Guest start to get into some trou-
ble: The movie forgets it is a docu-
mentary and becomes a film. Things
are said and done that would not ordi-
narily be done before a camera.
Without the funny and witty improv,
the movie slows, almost to the point
of no return. However, the incredibly
cohesive cast springs back to finish
the movie with a bang.
The supporting cast is strong, and
they complement each other so well
that one almost feels like a part of
Blaine's dull monotony. Those of you
from small Midwest towns will be able
to see the characters and say: "Oh that
guy is exactly how (insert name here)
Audiences must go into "Guffman"
with an open mind. Laughs are plenti-
ful, but they are not the gut-busters
that composed "Tap." It is a different
kind of movie altogether, and you will
be disappointed if you think you are
seeing the sequel to "Tap." So enjoy
"Guffman" for what it is: a truly
Amassing a cast
Ron (Fred Willard, top) and Sheila
(Catherine O'Hara, bottom) are travel
agentswho have never left Blaine in
"Waiting for Guffman."
of seven, composed of the vast array
of town folk, Corky sees this as a
vehicle for his triumphant return to
off-off-off-Broadway. He writes let-
ters to various production companies
in New York to see if they will view
his work. When a Mr. Guffman
responds saying that he will decide if
the play is New York-worthy, the
plot's wheels are set in motion.
Dr. Allen Pearl (Eugene Levy, top)
takes a break from dentistry to star In
Corky St. Claire's (Christopher Guest,
bottom) production in "Guff nan."
spirit alive in A2
Jen to read 'Mona' at
Shaman on Friday
By Christopher Tkaczyk
Campi Arts Editor
The American musical is alive and
v and living in Ann Arbor. At least,
this past weekend, audiences were treat-
ed to an excellent production of a clas-
sic American show, "The Music Man,"
direcad by Musical Theater
Depatment Chair Brent Wagner. The
perfoitnance, which showcased the tal-
ents of students from the musical the-
ater department, proved to be nothing
less than stimulating. Attention was
d ended of the audience members as
t east recounted the story of Harold
Hill, con artist and traveling salesman
in what was ar
captivating open- r
ing, the curtain Th
rose' upon the
inside of a passen-
ger train car, in
instruments and the uniforms, hoping
that their children will shine. The trou-
ble is that Hill knows not one thing
Hill, played wonderfully by Gavin
Creel, sounded much better than the
play's original Broadway Hill, Robert
Preston. Creel sang his fast-paced songs
with ease and confidence. His character's
ability to sweet-talk the citizens of River
City showed in Creel's acting, allowing
for a highly believable portrayal.
When Hill comes to town, he creates a
disturbance by announcing that the new
pool table at the town billiards hall will
cause nothing but trouble for the youth
of the city. During
V I E W the song "Ya Got
Music Man smooth-talking Hill
wooed the audience
Power Center as well as the citi-
April 20,.1997 zens of River City.
Another fine per-
formance was given by Kelly Simpson,
who portrayed the River City librarian,
Marian Paroo. Marian is the woman who
Hill tries to seduce when he comes to
River City. Simpson provided just the
right balance of class, grace, decency and
beauty that defines the classic character
of "Marian the Librarian." Her beautiful
voice soared as she sang the tunes
"Goodnight, My Someone,""My White
Knight" and "Till There Was You."
The production's choreography was
another asset, proving to be highly
"The Music Man" captured the spirit of the American musical this past weekend.
By Elizabeth Lucas
Daily l3ooks Editor
Multiculturalism, ethnicity and
diversity have been hot issues through-
out the '90s, as every University stu-
dent has probably discovered. These
topics have been discussed everywhere,
from lectures to
letters to the editor,
and these discus- P R
sions all seem to
have one thing in
and lack of humor.
Thanks to Gish
which a group of -
traveling salesmen performed "Rock
lnd," an a capella song that sounded
more like a rap that a traditional musi-
cal theater song. "Rock Island" relies
on the train's rhythms as the men
bounce up and down in syncopation
with the train deftly moving down the
tracks. The salesmen begin to talk of a
man named Harold Hill, who goes from
town to town swindling the money from
shall-town citizens by creating the
n d for a Boy's Band, which he is to
III. The townsfolk pay him for the
entertaining and expertly executed. The
best dance number of the show hap-
pened during "Shipoopi," a song about
love between men and women. The
number, sung by Marcellus (Andy
McKim), a con-friend of Hill's, was a
highlight of the second act.
One of the play's comedic highlights
came out of Laura Heisler, who por-
trayed Elalie MacKecknie Shinn, the
wife of River City's mayor. Shinn. ever
the socialite, commanded the respect of
her fellow citizens. Heisler's perfor-
mance was hysterical at moments, as
her throaty, husky voice boomed out the
silly remarks Shinn often made.
One of the funniest aspects of the show
was the Barbershop Quartet that Hill
magically formed out of the four mem-
bers of River City's School Board. The
four men, portrayed by Tony Greenlaw,
Seth Hitsky, Brian Mulay, and Craig
McElowney, would wander around the
stage during certain scenes, singing com-
mentary songs surrounding the plot con-
cerning Hill.The quartet sang handsome-
ly and their voices blended well.
A disappointing performance came
from Ernie Nolan, who played Mayor
Shinn. H is southern drawl seemed out of
place, and he failed to receive approval
from the audience. He seemed to be
delivering his lines with false emotion,
rather than devoting his talent to the char-
acter. His dramatization seemed more of
a cartoon than acting, and didn't prove
worthy of the rest of the cast.
"The Music Man" proved to be an
amazing finale for University
Productions. It can only be guessed that
next year's season will be just as amaz-
ing, with such productions as "Sweeney
Todd" and "West Side Story" in the
Jen's novel "Mona in the Promised
Land," this is no longer a problem.
"Mona in the Promised Land" fol-
lows the characters from Jen's earlier
novel, "Typical American." That book
focused on Chinese immigrants Ralph
and Helen Chang, as they adapted to
American life. This second novel, how-
ever, is set a few years later, in 1968,
and the main character is the Changs'
daughter, 16-year-old Mona.
"It was not a planned thing," said Jen,
as she described how she came to write
the book. "I just happened to write this
story about Mona."
In this book, Mona and her friends
find a simple solution to their cultural
dilemmas: ethnic "switching." Mona
goes to temple with her best friend and
eventually converts to Judaism, while
her Jewish boyfriend Seth decides he
may have been Indian in a past life.
Meanwhile, Mona's older sister Callie
is learning about Chinese culture from
her African American roommate. While
this may sound too unusual to be true,
it's definitely an appealing solution to
the problems of
E V I E W tion.
Gish Jen from its predeces-
Friday at 8 p.m. sor in its rapid pace
shaman Drum and deadpan-hilari-
Free ous prose. Jen said
this change in totte
was partly because, "I think I was
happy to be writing. I was just grateful
for every moment I was at my desk."
Jen's 5-year-old son probably influ-
enced this style, too; when raising a
child, it becomes important to maximize
your time. As Jen summed it up, "I had
to go to my office, down a double cap-
puccino, and start writing - the people
at Starbucks got to know me pretty well.
This is the book that caffeine wrote."
However, Jen said that her early writ-
ing career was not fueled by caffeine,
but by a Harvard course with noted
translator Robert Fitzgerald, in which
she was assigned to write poetry.
After graduation, Jen got a publish-
ing job, and considered taking up sev-
eral other jobs, before deciding to write
full-time. "I really became a writer by
process of elimination."
As Jen', book suggest, the ethnic-
switching solution seems like a neat way,
to resolve such dilemmas: why be limited'
to one identity? However, readers do have
to wonder if this idea is even possible, in
the ethnically compartmentalized '90s.
"It was easier to switch (in the '60s),"
Jen said. "Now, there's so much ethnic
balkanization. A lot of the euphoria of
the late '60s and early '70s is gone."
But reading "Mona in the Promised
Land" definitely gives a taste of this
euphoria - it might even inspire a
new era of tolerance and true multi.
culturalism. After all, the real point
the book makes is that ethnic fluidity
and diversity are the essence of
In one scene, Mona's Japanese
friend Sherman suggests that she
become Japanese. It's easy, he says. A
person can become Japanese "like you
become American. Switch:"
'Eight Heads' offers absurd black-comedy parody
By Kristin Long
Daily Arts Writer
'There is funny, and then there is absurd. And when
there appears a film starring Joe Pesci and David
Shade about eight heads shoved into an oversized
-on, absurdity reigns supreme.
he plot is a mix of slapstick
parodies with interludes of a seri- R
ou dilemma. Pesci is Tommy
Spinelli, a mobster who has to Eil
deliver proof to Big Sep that the
n'irders he ordered were carried
out completely, and correctly,
hece the eight heads.
Tommy has been through the old mob games
before, and he just wants to retire. When he encoun-
* the naive frat boy Charlie Pritchett (Andy
Comeau) on an airplane en route to deliver the heads,
he would just assume shoot the kid rather than make
small talk with his little neighbor.
As Pesci's character discovers that he retrieved some-
one else's duffel bag, he has a new mission to find the
other half of the mistake. Clues lead him to unknow-
ingly calling Charlie's fraternity brothers in Baltimore,
who could care less about their pal's whereabouts.
- _Once Tommy arrives at the
- V I E W house, the film gains momentum.
The interactions between Tommy
it Heads in a and the two medical school wise
Duffel Bag guys, Ernie and Steve (David
**I Spade and Todd Louiso), are the
At showcase best dialogues of the film.
While Tommy, Ernie and Steve
bicker about revealing the truth, Charlie is off in Mexico
trying to schmooze his girlfriend's parents. The film
lacks substance in this location, and we would rather
return to the camaraderie in Baltimore than be bored
with Charlie and Laurie (Kristy Swanson) in Mexico.
When Charlie and Tommy finally make contact, it
is only a matter of time before the plot comes to a sin-
gle conclusion. Afier a while, however, the story goes
in so many different directions that the humor and
comedy that made the beginning worthwhile disap-
pear. Random moments of amusement hardly main-
tain the momentum that began the film.
The film lacks consistency in its antics. While the
facet of the plot with Pesci and the medical students
maintains witty and creative dialogue, it makes Charlie
and Laurie only seem like flaky additives to fill space.
While Pesci continues with his roles as the crabby
over-worked mobster, he still can make us laugh with his
attitude and irony. It is unfortunate, however, that the
rest of the film does not move with the same personali-
ty, thus making the light-hearted mockery too obscure to
appreciate. "Eight Heads in a Duffel Bag" pushes the
limit on the parodies of a black comedy, and just cross-
es the line into the realm of the completely asinine.
Jen will read at Shaman Drum Friday.
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