SOMETIMES LIKE FIRE
"George Tirebiter's Radio Follies" - 7/26/97
A performance review by C. Simril
An enchanted evening of entertainment at the Whidbey Island Centre for the Arts began with the 2 youngest Ossman children, Orson and Preston, running across the stage to turn on an old radio and bring into existence, their dad's created world, George Tirebiter's Radio Follies. A mixture of music and skits, the 40s and the 90s. Follies worked on a number of levels: an opportunity for Proctor and Ossman to riff on each other, a vehicle to showcase Phil's wife, Melinda's awesome talent outshining both Firevets, a history lesson and other pedagogy ("I'm happy that the philosophical points I tried to make were made," Dave said, after the show), a vehicle to revisit old fireriffs (Dead Cat Soap - ouch!) and characters as well as the perfect production for someone who'd never seen live Firesign to discover how good it can be. My wife Fumiyo has heard tons of Firetapes, but seeing them live, even doing lines she knew, was a completely new experience. Others in the audience knew the riffs and the references but didn't laugh any harder.
The Tirebiter story continues to offer Ossman a way into the past, a time machine to relive old glories from long before his radio days. The soap origin in radio is recreated still wondering, who's Peggy? Germ fighting soap and G.I.Joe. To what extent this resembles a real 40's radio show production is something someone not born then can only know anecdotally. The continuing adventures of Random Coolzip hold less than random interest for me, yet it's always a thrill seeing them roll words around in their mouths, fondling the phonemes into brave new patterns.
The commercial for Tirebiter franchise bars echo the fact that plays are sponsored by the real bar across the street where DO DJ's after the show. Phil, the anagramatic comedian, introduced what we expected to be a taste of the new Mark of Bozo, but was interrupted by a newsflash: Camel on the Lamb - Joe Camel leaves billboards to roam Fireland. Immortality research justifies it all.
Frank Funk and Margot Mundaigne (Phil & Melinda), on the radio again, displayed the ravages of the decades since those glorious war days. A stop on the road to the past - remembering how far you are from it, and then forgetting. Sure am hungry for more Firey food jokes. Not Austin's school lunch surrealism, but you get the sugar'd drift. Lovebirds overcome their animosity by reliving their musical marriage - you can see two lovebirdly thespians playing a pre-womb version of themselves.
The Hollywood Madhouse Murder Case evoked The Ronald Reagan Murder of Ossman's 3-volume literary project. The Hollywood Madhouse show that Oss/Aust did in the 70s segued into Max Morgan-stylings, and Austin projectiled Down Under The Olde Detective.
Great to see them do Disney Disney and other bits from their April Fool spots. Will Epcot still want to use Phil's voice for their new ride after this? Have they forgotten The Oz Firesign Theatre raid on their copywritten totality?
Rolly Maidens come down from Outer Space to comment on fame and how much you could buy for a dime when it had Hitler's picture on it.
Moving from kids listening to the radio to remembering being on the radio, to the assorted shows and then into a book becoming a radio play, evokes Dwarf's telescoped time. The struggling actress's input into Tirebiter's mystery is an expected plot point, yet without the chance observations of non-detectives, what crimes would ever be solved? Honest stories of working people create Hollywood stars. Waxing those jeeps as memories wane.
Dame Rumour an especially viscious ad parody, wrenches memory to the great ads of Dwarf in 2 Places. Years in your ears, franchised out from How Time Flies, luxuriates you into the 1940 world - fair for all, and unfair to the warring fires under the storm clouds.
Rebecca, with actual dialogue from the 1940 Hitchcock flick, sends Melinda into new universes of creativity on beyond her role as Bluff Underbelt from the Knitting Factory and Alex Femme in Power. Edie Mclurg's Dot Duncan in the Knitting Factory gig as well as rfo.com drifts through, like a well-lit ghost. Will Rebecca find a Man to lay? Is Alfred laughing in his tomb?
Did Don't Walk signs take away our freedoms? Depends on what you mean by "our." As the hour of follies ends, Ossman re-does his concluding messagery riff - no longer the "confidence in the system" season, nor the screed against virtual reality he finished the 1st Digital Diner radio show with, but the same general idea: Professor Ossman wants your attention. I know this is historically resonant, but I wonder if Dave could have gotten those points he wanted to make more effectively pointed if they had been sprinkled throughout the play, instead of pounding so incessantly at one point in time. The damnation of rubber stamped art echoed in many voices in the bar after the show.
Do we stimulate greater creativity by complaining about its absence or demonstrating its presence? There is always in Fireland that tension. Agitprop vs Vaudeville. Sermon or serenade? Billy Bragg sings: "Mixing Pop and politics, he asks me what the use is?" Brecht could answer. Fighting Clowns serenade the survivors at the 5 & 10 Bar after the show. They croon, "Hey Reagan- it's not too late - to lose again" yet Ronnie won, the Fire went out and Ossman left for a steady pay check in radio. What is happening here is not a rebirth, but the beginning of something new.
Goddard argues all art is political, yet politics seeks to bathe you in the now, while what you consider art still rattles around in your skull after you've stopped using it. Is Gated Billville prophesy or coincidence?
Dave's wife Judith joins us between plays to complain about Proctor's unannounced sortie into Anagramland beyond the map, commenting that whenever 2 firelads get together on stage, it can only be a new record every time. Forget your future memory of what then will occur, gypsy-doctor. It was so different the previous night! What is a producer to do? Keep track of these borning beauties and sell copies through Otherworld Media I suppose.
It is now 1954. Tirebiter is blacklisted, his world gone black in this "dark comedy movie-for-your-mind." He supports himself as a flunky for Howard Hughesish Mr. Pingo, and is sent to investigate a new weapon in New Mexico. An outer envelope finds George's girl friend Kat trying to get G. a job, but he's offered only humiliation theatre in the face of Mark Twain expertise sloughed off. We can do something about it. We can keep George Leroy Tinkerbell alive. We can mumble "George Tirebiter" when the directing over-presence asks us. We can get ourselves out of the can.
So many New Mexico riffs - from Ossman's life in that state? I keep waiting for Roswell but in vain. Mickey Spillane brings books to places they're never been, as Kerouac's publisher told him - Go after those lonely souls and fill them with your social numinosity. Spill all over the lane, yet into the sand of newer Mexico go only Cobalt Testing Rangers.
Hoppy Hoppenhower evokes Robert the O for those in the know. The desert was colonized by spacey tests, flaky testes and myths that will know no rest. Mickey Spritzer the visiting LA mobster tailing the comet of the century tweaks the possibility that the Mob doesn't have a decimal of its supposed strength. Who does? Does who?
Ossman hearing the music of the spheres on that mesa in Hopiland - those of us who recall those Firesign revelations when they occurred in a distant decade are still as surprised as he was then. Now it is something to be tapped into, like Bergman's dream electrician turning off all the power and making us live a lot closer on that mesa . . .
and stereo is the world and the weapon. Like the Internet, military sparks light many a camp fire for the unarmed. As Bergman observed at the Knitting Factory of the Internet, "from the minds of paranoid generals spring jewels." New Mexican Overdrive among them.
Many are the plays I've attended where the audience was asked to participate - keep Tinkerbell ringing and ringing, yet I've never seen it more skillfully done than in New Mexican Overdrive. Although I hope Otherworld Media will be selling cassettes or CDs of both of these magnificent plays, the experience of being in the theatre and being an integral part of the George Tirebiter story is beyond capturing by any media. Ideally, Ossman will take this play on the road - the planet's numerous Fringe Festivals and Comedy Festivals could perhaps provide the venues. Hearing a tape of Overdrive and Follies would be like reading the Big Book of Plays. Great to have in your library but it isn't The Firesign Experience. Hopefully, everyone reading this review will have the opportunity to feel Ossman's nuclear boom in the flesh.