Too Many Hitlers
Reviewed by Gray Palmer
The Complex Theatres
Through June 24
At last year’s Hollywood Fringe, in Tony Danza’s Letterz 2 2pac, the writer/comedian Steven Benaquist brilliantly impersonated a clueless Tony Danza sharing Tupac Shakur’s letters from prison. In that TV-earnest “conversation for the ages,” Benaquist gave a deadpan performance of Danza’s revelations about — and appropriations of — blackness; it was hilarious and jaw-dropping.
This year Benaquist returns with another satisfying hall-of-mirrors comedy, Too Many Hitlers. Here, at the conclusion of WWII, all Hitler’s decoy-doubles have been summoned to the bunker.
Benaquist, as Decoy #1, fiercely committed to the Decoy’s Prime Directive, never admits that he isn’t Hitler. Decoy #2 (the terrific Cameron Fife) nearly matches his fanaticism. These two, in a battle of doubles, compete with tests of comportment and jealous intimate knowledge of the Führer — while the bunker door keeps admitting more Hitlers. Nine decoys eventually arrive (but one of them is dead).
While artillery shells hit ever closer, several of the men share stories of expertise at illuminating the specific qualities of the Beloved Leader. Lover-boy (Charlie Farrell) describes his training in Hitler’s technique of copulation; Wrestler (Mike Thompson), his usefulness whenever the Führer picked a fight; and Actor (Jim Coughlin), his rhetorical performance (and glowing reviews) at the Nuremberg Rally. (All are fine comic performers, and all of it great material).
In their devotion to the sublime tyrant, the company even breaks into song and dance — just as silly as the Three Stooges’ musical numbers. The ensemble includes Matt Champagne, Pete Handelman, Amber Kenny, and Jeff Taub.
Benaquist’s very sharp writing is matched by his relaxed, deadpan performance technique. He co-directed with his longtime collaborator Joe Wagner.
Complex Theatres (Ruby Theatre) 6476 Santa Monica Blvd, Hollywood; http://www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/4726; through June 24. Running time: one hour without intermission.