Road to Nirvana

As American society sinks ever deeper into the worship of materialism and the illusion of its piety, artists intent on exposing this mass psychosis find it increasingly necessary to shock their audiences. Such is the tactic underlying playwright Arthur Kopit's Road to Nirvana, a relentless and sometimes profane satire of Hollywood culture now playing at Germinal Stage Denver.

Photo of Marta Barnard as Nirvana
Marta Barnard as Nirvana
Kopit's tale centers around two washed-up producers willing to do just about anything for a hit film. Their big opportunity comes along in the form of a vain, eccentric pop singer who's more than eager to prey on their desperation.

Michael Leopard is Al, a smarmy egotist who fancies himself as mover and shaker. Leopard's performance is masterful, using an Eastern European accent to create a fasçade of cultured charm that, in the next breath, he destroys with crude language and mannerisms. Whenever Al reaches for anything greater than a simple-minded concept, he must rely on his girlfriend Lou to bail him out with the appropriate terminology.

Gia Mora Chinisci is the bikini-clad sex-kitten Lou. On the surface, her quiet, compliant demeanor and self-absorbed manner give every indication of a vacuous golddigger. Yet somehow, underneath this act, Chinisci conveys an implied togetherness that, whenever she is called upon to speak, makes us wonder if it's she, and not Al, who is the brains behind this operation.

Ed Baierlein, with shaved head, open tropical shirt, and gold chain, is Jerry, who at first appears to have adjusted his expectations and found contentment in educational film projects. After Al introduces him to Nirvana (the recording icon who has agree to star in their production), Baierlein's kicking and screaming transformation of Jerry to a neutered, blood-sucking, excrement-eating butt kisser is something to behold.

Marta Barnard makes Nirvana's anxiously anticipated entrance in the second act worth the wait as she indulges us with multiple larger-than-life personalities who range from a delusional sprite to a ball-busting vamp. Any resemblance to the Material Girl is strictly intentional.

Strangely, though, despite the admirable characterizations and Baierlein's clean direction, there is no catharsis here. We know from the moment we meet these folks that they understand what they're getting into; thus, their conscious degradation elicits no sympathy, only disgust. Even recognizing that this is what Kopit intended, one is left with the dubious lesson that even an otherwise refined thinker—his credits include Nine and Wings—must embrace crassness to depict the morass that is Hollywood.

Germinal Stage Denver's Road to Nirvana runs through July 13th. 303-455-7108.

Bob Bows


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