Bargain Basement

Have you ever regaled a houseful of your friends with an evening's worth of your special brand of witty banter? And did their approving laughter tempt you to take your "material" on stage as a stand-up comic? After all, that's how Tim Allen, Bill Cosby and Roseanne headed down the road to stardom. So what's to prevent you, a budding comedian, from attaining similar success by flying solo in the theater--unless, of course, it's the unpleasant possibility that no one besides your friends will laugh at your jokes?

Though she's eminently aware of the challenges posed by doing standup in a theatrical setting, local comedienne Lisa Wagner has decided to forge ahead anyway with her original show The Blue Light District. For 75 minutes, Wagner performs comic monologues and songs poking fun at America's passion for discount stores. In fact, each of her zany characters regards his or her devotion to dime-store consumerism as a lofty form of religion--a situation ripe for the sharp knife of satire. But director Janine Santana fails to exert a firm hand in shaping Wagner's performance, and the result is a show riddled with halfhearted attempts at humor and haphazard stabs at social commentary.

The evening begins with twenty minutes of songs featuring lyrics like "Your butt looks like cottage cheese" and "Some dumb-ass kid stole my car." You'd think things could only improve from that point, but think again. Still to come are a tune about how Wagner once avoided getting her braces stuck on her date's sweater, a bizarre parody of pop singer Alanis Morissette, and a blues ditty about Wal-Mart that starts to show some promise before it comes to an abrupt halt.

After a five-minute break, a black-robed Wagner returns to the stage, shaking a tambourine and singing, "Oh Lord, when I die/Send me to a Kmart in the sky." She proceeds to string together several monologues about underpaid workers and obsessive-compulsive shoppers, but her under-rehearsed transitions between scenes consist of comments such as "Um, okay, I guess the next one is going to be...no, wait." And that's not part of the act. Wagner does show potential, and she seems to gain confidence as her characters become stranger and wackier. But by the time she appears to settle in to her surroundings, the show's over. She thanks us for coming and waves goodbye.

Despite this show's shortcomings, give Wagner credit for trying. In the absence of a strong director, it's not easy to do standup and still retain a sense of self--as any number of bleary-eyed castoffs from the world's comedy clubs can attest. Nevertheless, Wagner did write this stuff herself. And, more to the point, her lack of confidence in her own acting ability is painfully evident. As a practical way of remedying that situation, she might want to consider adding another performer or two to the act, which would strengthen her individual resolve while relieving her of some of the responsibility for the show's success or failure.

If nothing else, Wagner exhibits an unwavering devotion to her work. Anyone out there feel like befriending a struggling comedienne and giving her a break?

--Lillie

The Blue Light District, through March 8 at The Shop, 416 East 20th Avenue, 831-6095.

 
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