A combination of in-jokes and surrealist farce, the children's DVD Showbeast is trippier than Sesame Street and more avant-garde than Pee Wee's Playhouse, though it would still appeal to a little kid or a stoned person. Creator Benjamin O'Brien stars as Snow Beast, a guy in a zebra shirt who plays opposite three puppets: an old man named Westby; a schoolgirl with a bowl haircut named Kasey Tang (based on the male painter Casey Tang); and scrubby, big-eared Mark Sleedes. Co-creator and puppeteer Erin Gleeson plays Star Beast, an all-purpose character (telephone operator, instigator, sidekick) with horn-rimmed librarian glasses and a handlebar mustache. In their skits, the actors play word games, puke out yin-yangs and peace signs, and basically do a lot of stuff that you have to be in a certain frame to appreciate. "We were joking around one day about how it would be really funny to have a girl who's supposed to be a hottie," said Gleeson. "But she has, like, a huge 'stache."
Most parts of Showbeast have a weird genesis. Gleeson said they came up with "Nose Raptor" — a skit about a mustache that takes over Snow Beast's face and causes him to be a jerk to all his friends — while attending a friend's show at 21 Grand, and she wrote the bulk of it down on her forearm during intermission. Their skit "Baltimore Beast" was a collaboration with filmmaker Jimmy Joe Roche, whose own project "Baltimore Shopping Network" has him standing in front of a green screen with ridiculous images projected behind him, hawking merchandise that people normally wouldn't want to buy. The idea came when Roche was hanging out at their Oakland warehouse. "He was pacing across the kitchen floor," said Gleeson. "He was saying, 'I kinda want to talk about the polar ice caps melting, how shit is fucked — maybe we could incorporate this banana!'" (In the skit, Roche gobbles the banana and disgorges it.)
At some point, Gleeson and O'Brien would like to upgrade their setup, which currently consists of a wall painted green (for that homemade green-screen effect) and Home Depot lights clamped to a garbage bin. They'd also like to write more evolved narratives for their stage performances, which mostly spawn from jokes written during downtime at their job, (both work as lab technicians at the Academy of Art). But for now, Showbeast pretty much fulfills its purpose: five-minute, stream-of-consciousness skits in which Gleeson and O'Brien get to act out Gleeson's fascination with mustaches and do things they can't do in their everyday lives. Showbeast plays Saturday, Dec. 15 at Oakland's Rock Paper Scissors Gallery. The show also features music by punk artist Nobunny and singer-songwriter Hanalei. 7:30 p.m., $5. RPSCollective.com or Showbeast.net
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