The Dark Room Theater is located in that area of Mission between 19th and 20th, where you can find some truly great Mexican food but you shouldn't let that distract you from guarding your purse. The front of the building is painted black, and until show time a black accordion gate bars the narrow entryway. Once the proprietor unlocks the gate, note that the front door's offset so that what goes on inside the theater can't be glimpsed from the street -- there's something clandestine-feeling about entering The Dark Room.
I went to The Dark Room to see Jennifer Blowdryer's comedy act, The Mind of Blowdryer, and while I waited in my seat for the show to begin, I had only vague notions about what to expect, pieced together from what I'd found on the internet. I'd gathered that she's a worldly Jewish punk rock singer with a wild past and a good head on her shoulders. And in order to get an idea of the context in which she was performing, I'd read about a few of The Dark Room's other featured events. Such as every third Wednesday night at 8pm, which The Dark Room has dubbed Bad Porn Night. Then there's Thursdays, when the theater hosts its weekly American Fido contest, a spinoff of American Idol; the idea, however, is to find the worst act in San Francisco.
Having learned all this, I expected camp. Art that's racy and mannered and makes light of art. But I didn't expect the casual, impromptu feel of the show, which wasn't racy at all.
Jennifer Blowdryer came out on stage wearing a tousled wig, ripped fishnets, and a plaid dress that could barely contain her. She introduced herself in a way that was part comedy routine and part conversation with the audience. Clearly we were welcome to sass back, and while few of us did, the evening had the unrehearsed tone of a party.
Ms. Blowdryer then sat with the audience to watch a DVD featuring some of her friends, comedy skit actors living in New York. One actress, Johanna Buccola, stood out for playing several distinct characters: a drawling, laconic Southern beauty in lingerie intent on showing us just how much she loved her brand-name skin products; a hyperactive woman blurting strange, self-revealing facts about herself to her evasive first date; and finally a Christian woman leading a tour of her church, her every gesture made hurky and awkward with what seemed to be immense sexual repression. Before airing this final skit, Ms. Blowdryer warned us that she could barely watch Buccola's act. And part of the way through she left the room, reminding us that if we, too, found it unbearable, she would stop the DVD. Not one of us did, though, because while they were certainly grotesque, each character Johanna Buccola played was fascinating and hilarious.
During this evening's act two, a blonde male actor performed a monologue in the voice of a drunk guy who, during the course of one evening, gets evicted from several bars. Then a statuesque woman wearing striped tights came out of the audience to tell her story of being kicked out of a fetish club for doing something that, considering the context, seemed as though it might be permissible. (Though in the vast majority of other public contexts, one might run the risk of getting arrested for committing the act she described.) And Jennifer Blowdryer herself described a night during which she went home with someone who may or may not have been Cher and was subsequently kicked out for vomiting all over her hostess's fur bedcover.
Throughout the evening Blowdryer appeared to be very at ease. This was interesting, as the evening's subject matter and the kinds of characters we'd seen on the screen seemed tied together by one theme: the rejected outsider. One doesn't expect a rejected outsider to be so gracious and warm. It was as though we, the audience, were being called upon to remember being excluded, to recognize that exclusion doesn't amount to much in the long run, and that for the evening the performers and viewers alike were INCLUDED by virtue of having been -- each of us, at some point in our lives -- excluded.
At the end of the evening, having adjusted to my surroundings, I stepped out to the street less concerned about my purse. On the corner a man lay on the sidewalk, clutching his chest. He appeared to be bleeding. The crowd that surrounded him consisted of concerned and capable-looking people; some were ordering the man to stay awake, others were on their cell phones seeking assistance, and still others waited on the perifery in case fate called on them to spring to action.
It's funny, the things that can bring us together.
The Mind of Blowdryer plays Fridays, September 22 and 29, 2006. Show starts at 8pm. Call 415-401-7987 for info.