Times were when Steven Banks padded on stage in his slippers and robe at Hollywood’s 33-seat Chamber Theatre and spent the evening arguing with an unseen guard dog, wearing gorilla suits, rocking with Elvis and Dylan, fending off phone calls from his boss, mounting assaults with miniature cowboys and Indians and baking real chocolate chip cookies--which were later distributed (still warm) to happy patrons on their way out.
That was 1986. In 1987, the one-man “Steven Banks’ Home Entertainment Center” moved to the 40-plus seat Third Stage. In 1988, Banks headed for San Francisco and spent 11 months at the 140-seat One Act Theatre, followed by two weeks at the 600-seat Marines Memorial Theatre. There, the program was taped by Showtime for broadcast in May. Meanwhile, Banks has brought his “Entertainment Center” back to town, opening Sunday at the Pasadena Playhouse’s Balcony Theatre.
“This is the new and improved version,” says Banks, 34. What was once a morning in the life of a procrastinator royale is now an evening. Instead of greeting the audience in his robe and slippers, Banks is returning home from work in a three-piece suit. But--horrors!--there’s a message on the phone machine from his boss, demanding a report by morning. His new girlfriend wants to move in. His neighbor is a pain. It’s time for the jammies, the electric guitar and, of course, the cookies.
The total effect, Banks says, is more of a play than a collection of bits. In accordance with the new game plan, cookies are no longer handed out to every theatergoer. Instead, the lucky person who answers the closing trivia question gets the whole platter--which he’s forced to eat then and there. The formula seems to be working: After the Pasadena stint, Banks (whose wife is expecting their second child in two weeks) moves on to a four-week run in Chicago, with plans to open in New York this fall.
“It’s very nice to be making a living in theater,” the comedian agrees. “Of course, I’m not wealthy yet. But it’s getting better.”