A good gay stand-up comic can do an entertaining twenty-minute set on growing up (stereotypically) gay in a (stereotypically) straight world. We've all heard this material before -- the inability to fit in playing sports, the parental misunderstanding, the really good sense of style. Paul Stroili delivers this material with a new twist -- he's straight. In Stroili's one-man show, Renaissance Geek, we are introduced to a new type of man, the heterosexual who, in a somewhat overenthusiastic attempt to make himself more attractive to women, ended up more knowledgeable about art, design, and choosing the right wine than a "real man" ought to be. Not just geeky in any single discipline, Stroili gives us a portrait of a Geek For All Seasons, a true Renaissance Geek.
Although this take on "effeminate guy" material is novel, standing alone it isn't sufficient to sustain an audience's interest for the show's seventy-minute duration. Luckily, Stroili is not only a stand-up comic, but also an actor. Rather than simply educate the audience on the tribulations and virtues of being a Renaissance Geek, Stroili tells us his story through the eyes of a half-dozen characters (plus himself, at different ages) who he inhabits throughout the show. Stroili's characterizations are dead-on. The audience might not have actually met Stroili's mother, but we all recognize the gravel-voiced, chain-smoking, gimlet-drinking woman who hoped that the magazines she found hidden under her son's mattress really were porn. Similarly, Stroili effectively portrays his Italian-immigrant father, a man who strains in vain to find some common ground with his son, who he had "hoped would be [a] boy." Stroili's reminiscences are much funnier when delivered through these characters, but there is also an added bonus. In his parents' actions, we see the genesis of the obsessive/compulsive personality which keeps Stroili's therapist (who he also plays) so busy.
While the bulk of this show is Renaissance Geek jokes, the charm of it is in the details. Indeed, some of Stroili's best material is only tangentially related to Renaissance Geekdom. A great comic can tap into the audience's common memory and riff on something we all thought we had forgotten. In this vein, Stroili's stroll through '80s fashion (in scrunchy boots) is a nostalgic delight. And when Stroili's younger self talks about how Pepperidge Farm Goldfish will split down the middle if you bite 'em just right, Stroili connects with a childhood discovery we had all thought we were alone in making.
Due to the sheer quantity of the material, some of the jokes don't hit their mark. Stroili unfortunately chooses to frame the show in the context of a motivational speech for Renaissance Geeks. His slick motivational speaker, with a hint of a self-satisfied smirk, is the weakest of his characters, so the show takes a while to get moving, and does not end on its best note. But the material in the middle is strong, and there's a lot of it. If Stroili's stint as a bartender who corrects all his customers' orders doesn't make you laugh, his vision of the perfect Game Show will.
Renaissance Geek Productions LP in cooperation with Last Nerve Productions present Renaissance Geek. Written and Performed by Paul Stroili. With the voice-over talents of Bill Penton, Cassy Harlo, Monroe Makowsky, Jean Elliot Campbell, Jennifer Evans. Produced by Denis McCallion, Directed by Bill Penton. At the Tamarind Theatre in Hollywood through October 29, 2000. Reviewed October 1, 2000. http://www.renaissancegeek.com