As part of TWEED TheaterWorks’ Happy*Cry*Pretty! Monday night performance series at Pangea, comedian-writer-actor Steve Hayes recently presented We Only Have Brains On Tuesdays. That wild title only begins to describe this hilarious, off-the-wall evening of “observations, monologues, and old movie talk.” Hayes has long been a reliable comic stalwart on the cabaret scene, and over the years he’s branched out into movies, theatre, television, and the Internet; his ongoing YouTube series, Tired Old Queen at the Movies, is a particular delight. I would hazard that one hasn’t really seen a movie until one re-sees it through Hayes’s eyes.
His audacious gambit of opening with an a cappella rendition of Gilbert & Sullivan’s “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General” paid off in not one, not two, but four rounds of applause as he went from one fake ending to another, climaxing in a dizzying double-time delivery of the final section. He recalled his early days of auditioning and performing in off-off-Broadway theatre, including a bit of Shakespeare for which he confessed to be ill suited at the time given his rather flamboyant and sibilant youth. (“How many S’s in Hamlet?”) There were memorable glimpses of his mother’s similarity to Susan Hayward, as she tried to push him into becoming an undertaker. These led to a keenly observed monologue about a viewing at a Methodist funeral complete with a not-entirely devastated widow making passes at a younger minister trying to console her.
His obvious love for Hollywood and his unique way with an impression colored a good portion of the show, whether it was spending Christmas visiting a “celebrity cemetery” to place a toy Oscar on Hattie McDaniel’s grave, or confessing his love for old-time actresses. Those ladies were either “victim gals” like Judy and Marilyn, or “girl with a gun gals” like Stanwyck and Crawford. He confessed his special affection for “second lead gals”—tough, no-nonsense dames who usually got bumped off in film noir after film noir. Stringing together cliché lines from what seemed like a hundred movies, he created a tour de force of mimicry and comedy. His creation of a recognizably awful and at the same time pitiable bar fly touched the heart along with the funny bone. In tribute to one of his idols, Noël Coward, he sang an original song that, at first listen, seemed a match for the Master. He closed the show as a sidesplitting Poirot-ish detective delivering a remarkably accurate and yet totally askew replica of the summation speech at the end of every Agatha Christie mystery.
What separates Hayes from other comics on the scene is the sweetness of his spirit and his message. At his most satirical, his most pointed, his most dramatic (as in his sideways revelations about a drug-troubled past), there is no rancor and no nastiness on display—just sheer, openhearted talent. In an ideal world, this show would settle in somewhere for a lengthy run, allowing Steve Hayes to dispense his comedic magic to a larger audience.
We Only Have Brains on Tuesdays
Pangea – March 27