Any show that features the repeated suicide attempts of a mime has its heart in the right place, but that is only one of many attractions of “KLÜB.” There’s a bitter clown with a dubious French accent, desperate vaudevillians, an actress who does impromptu plastic surgery on herself with a power drill, and a talented fellow who can eat anything and then regurgitate it as designer perfume. The Actors’ Gang’s revival of Mitch Watson’s caustically brilliant play is darkly hilarious, an acid valentine to the theater world that sizzles with anarchic glee.
A group of self-deluded performers are trapped in an old theater, forced to audition for the director, Mike (Michael Schlitt), with the winner of the competition supposedly allowed to leave. Trigger-happy clown Jean Claude (Watson) wrangles the actors, from wannabe “thespian” Richard Gleason (Nathan Kornelis) to a maniacally cheerful woman playing that little orphan Annie (Beth Tapper). Betty Schaeffer (Evie Peck) is new to the group but manages to immediately fit right in, and the members of the old-style comedy team “The Woodnards,” comprised of Scooter Woodman (Michael Neimand) and Eddie Oxnard (Joseph Grimm), have decided they have to escape, no matter what.
Tapper is brutally funny as Annie, grimly determined to never abandon the spotlight. When her character finally loses her costume and is revealed as her true self, her perf is so different that it’s almost shocking. Hannah Chodos is winning as Noni, Annie’s long-suffering assistant who turns the tables on her boss, and Peck is creepily compliant as the busty and blood-spattered Betty. Kornelis brings an expert blend of pomposity and cluelessness to Richard, who aspires to do Shakespeare but ends up forever remembered as “Kirby the Aquaboy.”
Grimm excels as Eddie, the more threatening of the Woodnards, his frustration curdling into violence, and Neimand is equally good as Scooter, the hapless partner. Watson is terrific as Jean Claude, both victimizer and victim, and Schlitt, who is mostly heard as an annoyed voice over the PA system, makes a bluntly amusing entrance towards the end, terrorizing his cast. Emilia Herman is Gallic perfection as the mime, Dominique, puffing furiously on a tiny cigarette butt.
Watson’s showbiz take on Sartre’s “No Exit” works wonderfully, one grotesque surprise after another, and it’s scathingly funny. His concept of an “Annie bar,” all the patrons being actors portraying “Annie,” is simply genius. Director Michael Schlitt stages the chaos coherently and uses the Ivy Substation space to its fullest potential, running the actors up and down the bleachers and staircases, dropping a dummy from the high ceiling, and having a character make an entrance from the staff elevator. David Arnott’s songs are clever and fit the show’s sarcastic vibe. Finally, Francois-Pierre Couture has outdone himself with the huge, densely cluttered set, where cobwebs, trunks, nooses, ladders and the remains of the “Carnage” set combine under the reverently hung photos of Liza Minelli and Mr. T.