First, the two men introduce themselves to the audience in front of the closed curtain in a prologue of sorts. Nick Kroll plays Gil Faizon, “charmed I’m sure”, a down on his luck actor who didn’t book an important gig as the CBS mascot, and John Mulaney is George St. Geegland, a writer of tenuous ability who wrote the play within a play that the two will perform later in the show – about two old men who live together on the Upper West side, named George and Gil. The ‘real’ George and Gil are, of course, also Upper West Siders – “the coffee breath of neighborhoods.” George introduces himself by saying “for someone who is so frequently mistaken for a Jew and a woman, I am neither.” George and Gil traipse about the front of the stage just as you would imagine two elderly men with shoddy hips would. They proclaim their love for the theatre and their intentions to pay “homepage” to the great theatrical traditions. George mentions that it will be a treat “for anyone familiar with our oeuvre, which means ‘egg.’” They go on to boast about their Br’dway home, the Lyceum theatre, which has housed works by such greats as Tennessee Williams and his sister, Serena.
As they move about the stage, you notice more detail about their costumes. George goes for a musty professor look, with corduroys, a turtleneck, an old man sweater vest, and a heavy tweed jacket from which you can almost smell the mothballs and b.o. no doubt emanating. Gil is more casual in dark green pants of unknown origin, a brown leather jacket that looks older than he is, a pink shirt that screams Miami circa 1982 coming through the zipper of his pants, and sandals with white socks. I would have been hysterical even if they were silent. Every single movement Nick Kroll made was perfection. Just the way his resting face would subtly resemble a main drooler in a nursing home was fantastic. Mulaney was less developed in all the depth of detail that Kroll had, but still great. If this wasn’t a ridiculous comedy spoof Kroll’s character preparation would be award-worthy. So unnecessary.
Then the curtain rises to reveal an intricate set, with an exterior of an apartment building on one side of the stage and the detailed interior of an apartment on the other, plus a salon in the back. Gil notes to the audibly surprised audience, not expecting such a set for such a show, “This is the first time an audience’s expectations were exceeded by having a set.” They explain that they retrieved all the various set pieces from past shows that had been on Br’dway. Some came from an August Wilson play that they can’t remember the name of; that’s why the picture of ‘their family’ hanging on the wall is of a black family. The salon was courtesy of Steel Magnolias, of course, with its chairs with the hair dryer helmets attached and the wall of products. The trapdoor, from the Diary of Anne Frank. (There’s a lot of humor that is awful like that so you have to be along for the ride.) The geezers get the audience used to the serious theatre they’re about to throw at us (not) by going over some of their favorite theatrical traditions. George talks about how obvious it is when someone is going to die by the end of a play because they’ll cough in their handkerchief and then open it very conspicuously and it’ll have red blood on it. True! He of course demonstrates how this plays out, and as the dying cougher he holds up a blood-stained handkerchief for all to see. Gil demonstrates another way overused theatre trick, and one of my favorite parts of the show, the ‘one-sided phone call’, or as he says it, “the win-sided phin call.” Asking their (unseen/not real) Indian lighting intern Ravi, “one of those new kinds of Indians”, for melodramatic lighting, Gil performs this theatrical ploy of repeating information from an offstage source so the audience knows what you’re learning. First, you get a phone that no one would ever have; Gil produces an old-fashioned rotary phone. Then, you fiddle with it way too much ‘to show the audience that you’ve been working with it all week’. Then the conversation occurs as such:
Gil: Oh, hello.
Gil: Charmed I’m sure.
Gil: The police?
Gil: Oh, you’re the police.
I’m still laughing at that. It’s so stupid! Yet it was hilarious! That’s what most of the show is like, really. They share a lot of their backstory as friends and roommates and all their misfortunes and misadventures, and then they perform George’s play for us. It’s hard to tell where the play ends and the play-within-the-play begins, because nothing really changes. It’s still the two of them being preposterous. They talk about past successes and failures, and they give us a rundown of their goings-on from various decades, all of which seemed to involve Steely Dan music and, their favorite thing in the world, “c’caine.” They talk about c’caine a lot, and against all odds their repeated pronunciation of that word gets funnier and funnier.
The play versions of George and Gil resurrect a radio show they once had called “Too Much Tuna”, where they chat with celebrities at a dirty local diner where even the coffee is gray, and feed them freaking enormous tunafish sandwiches. At least I think that was in the play; like I said, it’s hard to discern what was written by George and what was the main show, especially because the gimmick of that radio show – on station WOLO (say it out loud) – is exactly what they performed for real every day. George and Gil sit down at their diner table and start their radio show, and glory over the greatness of tunafish. “It really is the queen of the sandwich meats,” they say. SANDWICH MEATS. Then they bring out their special guest for the show, to the audience’s delight. So every performance, a random person from the audience or, more commonly, the biggest celebrity in the audience would be brought up on stage to try to make sense of what was going on and what George and Gil are saying and try not to just sit there laughing hysterically while they ask if you do cuhcaine. At my show, our celebrity guest was Hank Azaria, which was a fantastic surprise. He talked about how he part-owns a horse, a ridiculous fact that George and Gil brought up later in the show. Hank also talked about how his brother was once asked to join the Ramones, when they were first starting. Gil responded, “I was asked to join Simon and Garfunkel, because I was equal parts Simon and Garfunkel.” The improv throughout the show but particularly at this segment is beyond impressive.
In the play-within-the play, or maybe in real life, Gil had a problem with raccoons. (Rickoons.) He somehow always found himself having relationships with them, and was currently embroiled in a tumultuous affair with a r’ccoon named Lisa (who runs the Twitter for the show’s surprise guests, for real). Somehow this led to them talking about Shakespeare in the Park – maybe that’s where they met, I can’t remember the logic of this show, I was crying the entire time. “Did you ever go to Sh’kspeare in the Park?”, they ask. They discuss “Sh’kspeare” and how overrated he is. “Sh’kspeare is such a hack. Romeo sees the girl and just does a quick take – ‘Oh, ya dead? I’m not gonna check if you’re just sleeping I’ll just kill myself.’ Hack.”
Who on earth knows or remembers how, but the performance of George’s play leads into another unexpected yet familiar theatre trope – the nightmare ballet. As crazy as it sounds, it looked even crazier. There was all kinds of crap happening with the lights and ghosts and set pieces and all of it was like an LSD-trip -- which they touched on at one point, referring to an “LSD cult now known as SoulCycle”. They wake up from this insanity laying down on the floor, unable to move after what they’ve just been through given their advanced age. Prostrate (a word I imagine they would love saying and confusing with something close to it), they take turns yelling up to Ravi, the lighting intern, for help. It’s one of those jokes that is funny but somehow gets funnier the longer it goes on, once it reaches and then passes the point at which you go, annoyed, ‘oh it has to stop now, right?’ noooope. “RAVI! IT’S GEORGE. FROM THE FLOOR.” “RAVI! It’s Gil. Charmed I’m sure.”
I have a vague memory of “Too Much Tuna” getting picked up for more episodes and so they celebrate their success with new outfits. Mulaney comes out in a very slimly tailored beige belted expedition ensemble which he perfectly terms “Pussy Safari”. Gil shares that all he aspires to own one day is a ‘thundercoat.’ “A what?”, George asks. “A thundercoat,” Gil responds. “For a dog. When there’s a thunderstorm, and they get scared…it helps them not be scared….Well they still get scared.”
This show had no right being as hysterical as it was. I’ll remember things every so often, like how Gil found himself out in the audience at one point and saw a young boy sitting on the aisle, and asked him in his normal voice, “Are you enjoying ANY of this?” Or how Gil once worked as a stand-in for mashed potatoes ‘so they could get the lighting right for photo shoots’. How do they think of this stuff?! I can’t wait to see the taped performance (details for the airing have not yet been announced) and I hope all of you watch it too, but really there was nothing like seeing this absurdity live onstage. Whatever’s in the Lyceum next has, somehow, astonishingly, inexplicably, big shoes to fill.
The Lyceum Theatre gets my vote for Br'dway theatre most in need of a serious refurbishment. The only bathroom is down a staircase only reached from inside the orchestra, which is insane to begin with. But there are maybe 4 really old stalls in a bathroom lingering from the 1970s. Because of this, the theatre boasts the longest bathroom lines of any theatre. Be warned. You'd think the Shuberts could afford a little upgrade. Eye roll emoji.