Hollywood Fringe 2016
Beryl Swiver is a fictional chanteuse, played by actress and singer Rebecca Larsen. “Thanks A Lot” is Beryl’s tribute to herself; and the story of her journey from obscurity in anecdote and song.
Beryl is a fully-rounded comic character, best compared to the Paul Reubens creation Pee Wee Herman or the Barry Humphries grotesque Dame Edna Everage; heightened, but rooted in truth. Part-monster and part coquette, she is the sort of performer who gives performers a bad name; self-obsessed and delusional, blind to her faults and without a concern for anybody but herself.
Larsen manages to look ageless as Beryl, who claims at one point to be twenty-two but is more likely a painstakingly preserved forty-something.
She opens with the title song, welcoming the audience and establishing the tone, the audience join in with the charade that we are seeing a much-loved performer in a sophisticated cabaret setting. Big hair and a blue sequined gown suggest that Beryl would be at home in Vegas, or the the late eighties.
The clever (and often dirty) songs are by Richard Levinson, who provides keyboard accompaniment and is the perfect foil and straight man to Beryl’s discount diva. The songs are more obviously funny than the creation who sings them but there is no disconnect. Larsen sings the songs straight, and very well, allowing the comedy of the songs to shine through unhindered.
The stories between the songs (Credited to Larsen and Levinson with additional material by Jenelle Riley) give a potted history of Beryl’s passage to showbiz (via rehab and a rest home) and handily land us at another song opportunity. The depth of the characterization is impressive; the back story might not quite add up but you believe that a real person is lying to you. Larsen seems not to judge Swiver, but rather lets her creation’s blithe lack of conscience speak for itself. Larsen is completely at ease in her persona and the sold-out house was putty in her hands.
Credit should be paid to the invisible hand of director Kiff Scholl, it’s impossible to tell where his input starts or finishes but the whole show feels note-perfect. I hope that if the show gets further life, it might take the next step and be in the sort of cabaret room that it is currently just pretending to be in.
There are are very many one-woman shows on offer this year. This is definitely one of the best. I highly recommend it.