New heights of complexity were conquered and then rapidly abandoned in San Francisco last night at Small Press Traffic’s poets theater performance of Craig Goodman’s and Kevin Killian’s “The Smith Family.” The production featured such novelties as actual stage-sets, including a white picket fence and (gasp) a blue and white plastic waterfall; the employment of a genuine theremin to acoustically underscore certain mysteries associated with interplanetary travel; and the introduction of hard science with diagrams to demystify the genetic anomalies whereby persons named Patti Smith and Patty Smyth can exist simultaneously in the same biosphere and yet remain relatively disambiguated.
The play describes a family reunion wherein a number of celebrities surnamed Smith gather to sort out various problems that afflict them, ranging from lineage and patrimony issues, to an impending storm that threatens to obliterate their ancestral home at Fort Smith, Arkansas, and the malignancy of a vein of blue crystals evidently ready to erupt underneath the surface of the earth, while sports telecaster Howard K. Smith suffers abduction to Planet Beta-3 at the hands of the Blue Fairy, and other disasters befall, or at least appear ready to.
The appearance of Pinochio, brightly clad in a mountaineer’s cap and a pair of lederhosen, gave a touch of old-world ambience, but the best costume was worn or rathered shouldered by the Blue Fairy, whose wings emerged from a blue milk crate, to which a number of blue-and-white feather dusters were stiffly attached.
As the plot gradually imploded upon itself and devolved into a maelstrom of silliness, a very moving portrayal of the singer Anna Nicole Smith was offered by Cliff Hengst, whose off-handed drag performance superceded the grotesque and went on to knock ponderously at the gates of accomplished monstrosity.
One thinks of absurdist drama, or Charlie Ludlam’s Theater of the Ridiculous—but why bother really, these SPT poets theater shows are great fun and deserve lots more recognition from the community, from KQED-TV, for example, which needs to tape and broadcast them—how nice it would be to come home from work some day and see a show like this during prime-time, to replace the usual slobber on network televison.
And one might have hoped that Litquake, currently enraptured by the forthcoming sponsored appearances of Amy Tan and James Ellroy—now there's an idea for a poets theater show—could have at least mentioned The Smith Family on their Saturday event schedule.