Cole Escola

August 21, 2018 | By | Add a Comment

The piano on the stage at Joe’s Pub is covered with wigs of many hues and styles. Beneath it is a large black plastic trash bag, which will be revealed to contain a variety of dresses, gowns and costumes. Next to the piano is a full-size xylophone, to which attention will revert again and again as the night progresses, as if Chekhov’s dictum had referred to a musical instrument rather than a gun.

These are the elements that assist, illuminate, and underscore Cole Escola’s brilliantly funny new show, Quick! Pretend I’m Asleep! The comic enters in a shockingly red velour pants suit, sporting sunglasses that, when removed, reveal a knowing, sly glint in his eyes that lets us know just how much he is enjoying presenting an amalgam of characters, sketches, ad libs and scenes—which, in their inspired lunacy, recall the likes of The Firesign Theatre and The Kids in the Hall. Escola warns the audience to be prepared for “something unconventional” and tells us that on the way to the club he decided that this was not your regular cabaret or comedy show, but, rather, his Broadway show. While this may be geographically inaccurate, the evening offers more deep and rich and honest laughs than anything currently to be seen on the Great White Way.

After a funny, original introductory song, Escola gets down to business and down to his briefs. There is nothing prurient in this move, in spite of some tired, salacious wolf whistles from the audience (which he greets with a “grow up!”); he is becoming a veritable blank slate upon which he will create his impressive gallery of women. We meet a femme fatale dripping with film noir trappings narrating the fatal sway that Tuesdays hold over her. There’s Jennifer Convertibles, a failing tycoon contemplating a merger with her chief rival, one Ashley Home-Furnishings. Jessup, a lifestyle coach (and his only male character), gives teen girls flamboyantly inappropriate advice as they prepare to go away to college. A mousy office worker who happens to be a goblin is one of the craziest and most entertaining creations. Celebrities Sharon Stone and Bernadette Peters get skewered in ways that manage to be both vicious and gentle. The character work is so good that when the comedian goes all William Inge in a scene from an unwritten play about Laura Jean, the web-footed star of a carnival freak show, we are as riveted by the quiet moments as we are by the funny ones. Escola has the confidence to allow this piece to play out in its own time and it pays off beautifully.

Pianist Eric Gersen is much more than an accompanist; he provides a pretty much non-stop score for the proceedings, following the wild twists and turns of the show with remarkable skill. Christian Coulson has directed with an eye for the absurd and, in voice-overs, is an engaging foil for the comic and many of his creations.

Certainly there are a few moments here and there that could use tightening or a bit of pruning, or at least re-thinking, but the number of ideas, bits and characters that not only work but soar is astounding. By the time he reaches the visually stunning and wildly funny, scatological closing number, Cole Escola has proven that his seemingly outrageous Broadway dream might one day come true.

Quick! Pretend I’m Asleep!
Joe’s Pub – Aug 16-18, 23-25, August 30-September 1, November 23, 24

Category: Reviews

About the Author ()

Gerry Geddes has conceived and directed a number of musical revues—including the Bistro- and MAC Award-winning Monday in the Dark with George and Put On Your Saturday Suit – Words & Music by Jimmy Webb—and directed many cabaret artists, including André De Shields, Helen Baldassare, Darius de Haas, and drag artist Julia Van Cartier. He directs The David Drumgold Variety Show, currently in residence at Manhattan Movement & Arts Center, and has produced a number of recordings, including two Bistro-winning CDs. He's taught vocal performance at The New School, NYU, and London's Goldsmith's College and continues to conduct private workshops and master classes. As a writer and critic, he has covered New York's performing arts scene for over 40 years in both local and national publications; his lyrics have been sung by several cabaret and recording artists. Gerry is currently completing a memoir about his life in the city.

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