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Monday, 29 November 1999 18:00

The Steve and Chris Show: No Holds Barred

Written by Rose Martelli
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Project Improv * St. Louis

Through 11/17/2007
Reviewed by Rose Martelli
If I were to attend a dinner party thrown by Steve Houldsworth and Chris Hartman "" two halves of a real-life, gay male, odd-couple best friendship, Steve fortyish and laid-back, admittedly pudgy and balding, Chris a twentysomething, bean-pole hottie with a rather high-strung personality "" by evening's end The Steve and Chris Show would be what I'd jokingly dub the pair's passive-aggressive, ostentatious, conversation-monopolizing patter behind their backs.

All their airing out of longstanding beefs and constant, back-and-forth needling and mocking would make me wonder if I were only invited to provide a captive - or would it be captured? - audience for their self-indulgent, patience-trying antics, or if I were simply a foil in their own, private group-therapy session. If their goal were to truly entertain, they'd fall far short of that.

Certainly while witnessing the actual production of The Steve and Chris Show, being presented by Project Improv * St. Louis, of which Chris Hartman is a founder, I felt that way. Addressing theatergoers and one another from a sleek, simple beige couch positioned front-and-center on stage - leased from a local Rent-A-Center, one of them mentioned during the performance, perhaps to justify the cost of admission - their hour-long, unscripted and poorly structured dialogue wandered from point to point without ever really making a point at all, except that maybe Steve and Chris shouldn't be friends in the first place. It ended when Steve took his cell phone out of his pocket to check the time, turned to Chris and asked, "Are we done?" Perhaps on another night, the show would turn out much more sharply drawn, but it appeared that little forethought had gone into shaping a distinct beginning, middle and end.

True hilarity and genuine emotion were virtually absent throughout. On the night I attended, there were half-funny mentions of picking up men at Schnucks, a rather touching story told by Steve about his father's funeral, and at least seven separate references to MySpace as a critical cog in the typical gay male's social life. (In fact, one of their friends in the first row actually busied himself by texting via MySpace on his handheld PDA, which he blithely admitted to when Steve and Chris tried to razz him for it.) About half of the audience, I gathered, was comprised of the duo's mutual friends; at times the two unsuccessfully tried to engage in improv-style audience participation by asking questions that began, "How many of you who know us...?" or "What was your first experience with me?" Needless to say, such exclusiveness can be rather off-putting for those hoping to witness a smart, observant exploration of the dynamics of gay male friendship.

Instead, The Steve and Chris Show resembled a bitch session I might overhear between two customers at MoKaBe's. Steve and Chris rudely interrupted one another far too often, cancelling out any forward thrust to the show's momentum. While Steve, the more likable of the two, came across as natural to the point of being laconic, making a case for couch-vegging as performance art, Chris huffed and puffed and stirred himself into bouts of self-conscious "acting." It was amusing, though, to notice the parallels between two platonic gay buddies and, say, a yammering wife and her verbally abusive husband.

At one point during the performance, Steve described his thoughts about the show thusly: "I knew it wouldn't be theater. I knew it wouldn't be improv. I knew it would be a spectacle." The Steve and Chris Show was just that, but not in a good way.

Project Improv * St. Louis' production of The Steve and Chris Show continues on Friday and Saturday, November 16 and 17, at 10:30 p.m. at the New City School Theatre, located at 5209 Waterman Boulevard. Tickets are $10 for general admission, $7 for students and seniors. For more information, call 502-548-2430 or go to the Web at .

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