There are millions of Hollywood stories about “not quite made it” performers whose unrelenting hope continues to shine with laser intensity despite years of obscurity and rejection. Actor-comedian Bruce Smirnoff proves to be a charmingly low-key and often hilarious storyteller as he surveys the lows and very lows of his career. His narrative is aided immeasurably by Dan Cohen’s well-paced, light-handed direction and the complimentary set, lighting and sound designs of Irving Simons, Robert Loveless and Jerry DeCapua, respectively.
Smirnoff prefaces the reminiscence of his 23 years traveling through showbiz purgatory by beginning, “Just keep in mind one thing, all these stories are true. I just wish they weren’t.” Roaming about Simons’ mockup of his small Hollywood apartment, Smirnoff deftly demonstrates a standup comic’s need to make friends with the audience by immediately getting on a first-name basis with four of the opening night attendees. Throughout the show, he addresses these patrons as if they were his allies against the injustices that have plagued him during his unwavering assault on stardom.
To put some perspective on his life, Smirnoff does include such topics as his unremarkable childhood growing up in Fairfield, Conn., his lifelong failure with women and his utter fear of losing his hair. To give emphasis to these chapters in his life, Smirnoff deftly produces a series of enlarged photos of himself at different stages.
But Smirnoff’s all-consuming interest is his desire to become a star and the pitfalls that have altered his journey. He wisely allows the absurdities of the experiences to speak for themselves without any overemphasis or commentary on his part. Smirnoff’s at his best when high-lighting such painfully funny events as his utter failure when he made his 1978 debut at the Comedy Store, his 1981 firing from the cast of “Archie Bunker’s Place,” a torturous three weeks doing standup comedy in Atlantic City and his humiliating 1983 encounter with Johnny Carson at the Improv in West Hollywood.
At show’s end, Smirnoff stands in the center of his onstage apartment and gently explains why, at age 41, his passion for show business has not ebbed and his Quixotic quest continues. “I’m in the middle of the party, and it’s the greatest feeling in the world.”