'Oh, Hello': Theater Review
Following their sellout New York run, Nick Kroll and John Mulaney continue to hit comedy paydirt with their old-codger alter egos in a limited Hollywood engagement.
"Live, from Lers Angerles, it's this," is how Gil Faizon (Nick Kroll) introduces the hilarious new show, Oh, Hello. A Tony Award-viewing actor, Gil's accolades include a 1997 restraining order from his idol, Alan Alda. He teaches a seminar called Improvisation for Non-Listeners and describes himself as the type who likes to bring a beverage to the bathroom, which may or may not explain why his shirttail is protruding from his fly.
His partner in crime is George St. Geegland (John Mulaney), a like-minded renderer of the thespian arts, often compared to novelist Philip Roth when he’s not mistaken for the Riverside Park Flasher. In his own words, George is the kind of guy you’re likely to catch rifling through coat pockets at a party. Together with a special guest and an overstuffed tuna sandwich, they might be the funniest comic duo of their generation.
Fans of Funny or Die and Kroll’s now-retired Comedy Central show may know Gil and George, but for the uninitiated the first few minutes with them are a bit unnerving. They appear to be just a pair of clueless baby boomers in corduroy and mop-like gray wigs, yucking it up in ludicrous New York accents. But in no time their laughter spreads to the audience and the jokes keep rolling with a hit-to-miss ratio of close to 100 percent.
If there’s a structure to Oh, Hello, it is a play within a play — True Upper West, their “homepage” (homage) to Sam Shepard's True West, "inspired by and stolen from" the 2000 production starring John C. Reilly and "Phil Sy Hoffman," as they like to call him. Here they pause, fighting back tears. "We get choked up so we can make his death about us," explains St. Geegland.
Before they begin we’re told there's no good dialogue in real life, and so they decided they needn’t work hard on that part of their play. And with that, the audience is invited to stretch out in Hollywood's Ricardo Montalban Theatre ("because the Raul Julia Memorial Theatre is booked with a show about Tennessee Williams and his sister, Serena"), and treat the place the way "an orthodox Jew treats an airline — that seat is for your hat!"
St. Geegland starts by reading the stage directions, leaning to one side because they are written in italics. He's been waiting to hear from his publisher about his new novel, a 1,000-page, unproofed manuscript titled Next Stop, Ronkonkoma, a ride on the LIRR as told from 100 unique perspectives.
In a page taken from Billy Crystal’s 700 Sundays, Gil and George stroll down memory lane to Zero Mostel High School where Faizon was a student, but not St. Geegland, who is a product of The Chauncey School for Misfits. "It was me, a nun and a young Robert Durst," he recalls. In college, they occupied Columbia University during Vietnam protests in 1968, an act they claim ended the war only seven years later in "chaotic genocide. We did it!" The decade that followed was so drug- and sex-fueled that studio executives had to invent AIDS so everyone would go back to work.
That brings them to their current problem, a rent hike that forces them to consider the unthinkable — a move to New Jersey. Luckily, NY1 calls with an offer to produce their culinary chat show, Too Much Tuna, which takes place in a sprawling mid-town diner where "even the ice cream is bad." Opening night's special guest was Lena Dunham, who nervously took a seat between the old codgers. We're told they considered Trump, but he would have demanded a bigger, more luxurious tuna sandwich.
"I feel like I'm between two Bernies," Dunham said, referring to the presidential candidate. It turns out that Faizon and St. Geegland knew Bernie from the neighborhood, back when he called himself Bernard. Both are surprised to learn he's running for President. "President of what, the Band-Aid-on-Forehead Society?" asks St. Geegland.
Finally, when presented with an oversized sandwich, Dunham exclaims, "Too Much Tuna!" And as she returns to her seat the audience is assured she will be in the lobby afterward to have her picture taken with each and every one of them.
Director Alex Timbers (currently repped off-Broadway with The Robber Bridegroom) is credited as creative consultant, likely sharpening the team’s timing and movement amid production designer Connor Munion's spare furniture, front door and painted backdrop of a stylized New York City skyline. Lighting by Jake DeGroot is crucial to an ongoing spat the pair conducts with their off-stage tech-intern, Ruvi Nandan, whose name inspires off-color remarks. "I'm a liberal racist, just like you," St. Geegland confides to the audience.
Following December's sold-out run off-Broadway, the pair have honed the show at stops in Washington, Chicago, Boston and San Francisco, as well as a few nights at L.A. clubs UCB and Largo before this limited run at the Montalban. It's not clear how much tweaking was done, but it’s hard to imagine it getting any funnier. In fact, bring a handkerchief to wipe away tears. If laughter is the best medicine, Kroll and Mulaney are peddling an overdose.
Venue: Ricardo Montalban Theatre, Hollywood
Cast: Nick Kroll, John Mulaney
Creative consultant: Alex Timbers
Playwrights: Nick Kroll, John Mulaney
Set designer: Connor W. Munion
Lighting designer: Jake DeGroot
Sound designer: M.L. Dogg
Music: Mark Rivers
Projection designer: Aaron Rhyne
Dance consultant: Patrick McCollum
Presented by Mike Berkowitz, Mike Lavoie, Carlee Briglia, Kristen Buckels