Demitasse #16


Demitasse:  a sip of the Compendium

Spring 2001 edition


Demitasse is a free sip of the sardonic social commentary and reports of real

life weird that fill the Ladies' Fetish & Taboo Society Compendium of Urban

Anthropology (the Compendium).


(c) copyright Kathy Biehl 2001



Gabe Kaplan doing a one-man show about Groucho Marx sounded like a good

idea. After all, the former standup-comic-turned-pro-card-player peppered his

1970s sitcom "Welcome Back, Kotter" with nod after nod to the Marx Brothers.

So much for assumptions.

Part of the oddness radiated out from the location, an operation that debuted

this past January under the moniker the Sid Caesar Dinner Theater. Its

advertising is strangely appropriate, giving off the faintly moth-eaten air that

pervades such late career misfortunes of the Brothers Marx as "The Big

Store." Kaplan's colleagues in the first season line-up are the likes of Frank

Gorshin, Lee Meriwether and Mal Z. Lawrence. Kaplan may have the

greatest -- or most recent -- fame, but they have it over him in the headshot

reproduction department. His has the resolution of surveillance camera work,

in the season brochure.

The theater doesn't have its own space. Or even an outside sign. It consists

of a small elevated stage and a bunch of long communal tables in a ballroom

at a special events center on Long Island -- a once stately white clapboard

mansion that has spawned two increasingly larger, stuccoed, boxlike

additions. If a parking lot attendant hadn't told us to go to the back of the

lot, who knows how long we would have spent wandering around corridors

dotted with antique-looking furniture and lobbies filled with gargantuan chandeliers

and maroon-carpeted walls decorated with gilt-framed paintings of flowers.

Kaplan opened with some well-targeted asides. "He's too tall! His nose is too

big; his nose is too small. Well, for this afternoon, let's pretend that I'm

Groucho and that this is a real theater." Alas, both illusions took a beating.

Kaplan is a surprisingly ineffective Groucho. No sense of cadence or sentence

melody or inflection. He did work off the audience well (a couple hundred

elderly Jewish people)  (and a couple of goyim in the back) and throw in some good

quips. Laying the groundwork for Groucho's placing his savings in the stock

market (and facing ruin in the 1929 stock market crash), Kaplan tossed off,

"I know what happens to actors who don't have any money. They end up in

dinner theaters. The Jewish ones end up in kosher dinner theaters."

But he can't sing. He didn't even match pitches with the piano. Or stay in

one key. His "Hello, I Must Be Going" was one long argument for pushing him off

the stage. At the end, when he and the piano player and the utility actress

(who played every female part) came out and launched into "Lydia, the

Tattooed Lady," only the pianist's voice sailed through loud and clear, raising

suspicions in my vicinity that Kaplan's body mike had been turned off.

(According to Newsday, Kaplan acknowledges that he isn't "as good a singer"

as Groucho, which is why this show was subtitled A Life in Review, rather

than the usual A Life in Revue.)

So it was all the more surprising when, nearing the end, Kaplan sat at a

dressing table with his back to the audience, changed his makeup, turned around

and -- *was* 87-year-old Groucho. A ringer. Even more so once he opened his mouth. Old Groucho he can do -- the phrasing, the sound of the voice, the mannerisms. Every bit. It was almost frightening.

A phrase that sums up the whole experience, actually. The cooling system

was in overdrive. People were bundling up as best they could during the first

act. During the intermission some people bolted, while others griped to anyone

they could find. The bartender said the problem was in the hands of theater manage-

ment, because the temperature was required by the performers' contract. An

officious person was strutting around the place dodging kvetching, shivering

elderly people. Instead of offering any kind of acknowledgement to the uprising

at the head of our table, he barked something like "We know! It's being taken

care of!" and fled.

"For this amount of money, we could see a show on Broad-way," a man

announced from the head of my table. Maybe so, but would it have such a

floor show?

When the show stopped, the kvetching didn't. It moved downstairs to the ladies'

room. A woman with a cane groaned "I really have to go!" like a mantra, as she

pushed her way up through the line when I was second from the front. Being the

youngest person in the room, I decided to let her through, whereupon she tried

to shove the woman at the front out of the way. "I really have to go!" "*I* really

have to go!" they shouted back and forth. When they finally shuffled out and I was

able to take refuge in a stall, the talk outside my door turned ugly. "First they poison

us -- then they freeze us -- and they complain that we're unresponsive?" someone

called out. Somebody else targeted Groucho. "He was an obnoxious man. His son

wrote a book about him. It was an awful book -- he was *poison* to his son!"

There were widespread murmurs of approval.

Maybe the theater official knew something, after all. I followed his lead and fled.


Big Kermit the Frog "Yaaaaaaaaay": My book is out! The Lawyer's Guide to

Internet Research, which I wrote with Tara Calishain, is now available from

Scarecrow Press.


Red Room Records is open, and its first CD is "Inexcusable!"

One keyboard. Two guitars. Infinite Irritainment.

Featuring the spirited, artistically questionable song

stylings of Lady & the Mant

(who also answer to Rick Mantler & Kathy Biehl)

Ruby Tuesday * Yesterday * Stand By Your Man * Sunshine of

Your Love * Here, There & Everywhere * Wimp * Theme from

M*A*S*H * Guilt Trip * Tomorrow Never Knows * Ben

Only $10 bucks + $2.00 s/h!

Order yours from CD Baby!


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