The Rise and Fall, then Brief and Modest Rise Followed by a Relative Fall of…Jean Claude Van Damme as Gleaned by a Single Reading of His Wikipedia Page Months Earlier is the brobdinagian title of a tongue-in-cheek, hour-long comic riff on the life of a faded movie star. The title is almost as long as the play.
Timothy Haskell has written what is actually an extended elaborate skit brought to life by Joe Cordaro (perfect as a clueless Van Damme and other characters) and John Harlacher (hilarious as the all-knowing narrator) using puppets designed by co-director Aaron Haskell.
The other director is Paul Smithyman who also designed the efficient conglomeration of a set which includes two podiums for the actors and a screen for the snippets of films and slides used to illustrate the story. In front of the screen is a slotted board into which the actors insert funny two-dimensional stick puppets.
They recite a list of Jean-Claude Van Dammes, starting with a poor, short-lived fellow in medieval times, on to a Frenchman who met a painful end during the French Revolution and ending with a contemporary American Jean-Claude. It turns out that the subject of the play is not Jean-Claude Van Damme at all! No, he was born Jean-Claude Camille François Van Varenberg. His Van Damme was borrowed from his beloved—in many ways—martial arts instructor.
Visuals follow the tale with images of bucolic Brussels and of Van Damme’s youth which included an infatuation with a fellow martial arts student, Louis Frankenburg, two years his senior and possessing “crystal clear blue eyes,” a fact repeated—wink-wink—many times during the show.
His stint as a very visible movie extra is the subject of much ridicule, particularly a scene on a beach which became a viral internet sensation for its dumbness.
A shady Hollywood type, Joel Silver, found Van Damme’s high kick impressive which led to Van Damme’s big breakout film Blood Sport. From that point on, his success led to over indulgence in cocaine, women and spending.
However interesting Van Damme’s life was, it is Haskell’s facetious, double entendre writing that turns this second-rate actor into a first-rate comic target. Van Damme emerges as having more muscles than brains, more hope than talent, and the butt of a Hollywood joke.
The two actors work like demons, putting on accents, mock fighting, manipulating puppets in suggestive ways and even oiling up to make a bare-chested visit to the audience.
Zoe Stanton-Savitz’s clever sound design and Yang Yu’s lighting help the actors enormously.
The Rise and Fall is a great way to spend an hour escaping the swirl of everyday problems.
The Rise and Fall, then Brief and Modest Rise Followed by a Relative Fall of…
Jean Claude Van Damme as Gleaned by a Single Reading of His Wikipedia Page Months Earlier (return engagement opens June 11 for an open run)
Brooklyn Art Haus, 24 Marcy Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn
For tickets, visit http://www.bkarthaus.com
Running time: one hour without an intermission