By day, Siobhan Fallon is an English as a Second Language teacher, helping Latin American immigrants with their verbs and conjugations. By night, the actress becomes a touchy-feely therapist, a bad--very, very bad--comedian, an irreverent summer stock player, a no-nonsense cheerleading coach, a gossipy high schooler, a flipped-out Disney World tour guide and . . . a fish.
The vehicle is the one-woman show, "What Can I Tell You?," (of which Fallon is writer, star and producer) playing at the 2nd Stage in Hollywood.
"I was taking a comedy writing course," she recalled of the piece's origins. "I didn't even know I could write. I was just a regular actress in New York, going to all the auditions, and realizing that was not the route to breaking in--especially being a character type. See, I'm not an ingenue, I don't play the pretty young things. Soap operas? Please, I'd rather stick needles in my eyes than do soap operas . . . not that they'd hire me either."
Working with the improv group The Usual Suspects, Fallon began developing and acting out a collection of characters; in October, 1988, she premiered her show (then titled "Bat Girl") at Off Broadway's Westside Arts Theatre. Reaction was swift--and good. The New York Post dubbed her "comedy's newest girl most likely." Backstage magazine named her the most promising female comedian.
Some of her best material, the red-haired actress believes, has its roots in her own experiences. Like high school teacher Mr. Tinker (his real name) who pleaded with her not to disrupt his classes, her friend in grade school who got a bat stuck in her hair, her embarrassment at her mother sending her out to scavenge the neighborhood for contributions to her latest cause, or fooling around on stage during summer stock as she tried to crack up a fellow player.
Actor Jeremiah Boswang, a Usual Suspect cohort of Fallon's from New York, is serving as the show's creative consultant. "I think she has a real sense of humanity," he said of Fallon's appeal. "There are no brash, angry characters doing diatribes against society. The audience doesn't have to feel guilty about anything: There is no 'cutting edge.' Her characters are just charming, even the ones I love less--and that comes from Siobhan herself. She's just very likeable."
Fallon, born and raised outside Syracuse, N.Y., credits her parents' differing comedic styles for her own "odd point of view."
"My father is more like me," she said of her lawyer dad, "more outgoing, very loud. And my mother's real quiet-funny. It seems I'm always on the verge of laughing, looking for humor. Growing up--we were four girls and a boy--we'd all sit at the table telling stories. If I could crack up my parents, that was such a goal. Everybody's funny, except my poor brother. He's really quiet. Every time he'd start to say something, we'd say, 'Shut up, Billy.' "
If there was a time she wasn't entertaining, Fallon, the second child, can't remember. "It probably started at birth," she said lightly. "In first grade, we were having an assembly for St. Patrick's Day and they said, 'Who knows how to do the Irish jig?' 'I do!' It wasn't about nerve. I was just kind of dumb--and had no fear. I loved it. I remember in third grade, we did this play, 'The Proud Train,' and there was only one real part, the conductor. They would only let a boy audition for it."
Fallon, 28, wrinkled her nose. "I couldn't wait till sixth grade, because that's when they had the real plays. I was Marian in 'The Music Man,' and they had to cut all the songs because I couldn't sing. But I still loved it. I couldn't even stand going to the theater, because as soon as the orchestra would start playing the overture, I'd want to jump up. It got me so excited."
For college, Fallon opted for LeMoyne in Syracuse ("Actually my father chose it; I wanted to go to Boston College, but I didn't get in") and Washington's Catholic University for her master of fine arts degree. In spite of the trappings of a Catholic upbringing, religion is not skewered in this show. "A lot of comedians make fun of it, and it's kind of insulting," she said. "I guess I want to respect it. Maybe it's my Catholic guilt. Maybe I'm afraid if I don't, I'll be struck down."
Fallon is only half-kidding about her vulnerability. Living in New York City for 3 1/2 years before moving here last June took its toll.
"I was sick of it," she said bluntly. "No grass, no trees, and it seemed like everything was getting more and more dangerous. Very small apartments, very high rents, and my view was a brick wall. I realize now how exhausted New Yorkers are at the end of the day--because they're always on their guard. You've got to be careful when you walk out of your building, got to be careful on the street, you go on the subway with people pressed against your face. There's just so much tension. "
Another reason for the move West was business; Fallon makes no apologies for using this show as her calling card. "Especially being in the acting field, I didn't want to have to be meeting the whims of others," she said. "I can't do the pathetic picture in the envelope 'Please meet me' thing. You go on interviews and people don't care about you. It's so degrading: 'Hi, I went to such and such school and I can do funny monologues,' and they're like, 'Yeah?' "
So what keeps her plugging along? "I guess I've always been the little red hen: If no one else wants to get me started, I'll do it myself."
"What Can I Tell You?" plays at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays at the 2nd Stage Theatre, 6500 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood, through Jan. 20. (213) 874-9399. $9.99.