Me, me, me--that's all John Fleck ever thinks about.
Or so he would have us believe in "me," an acutely funny dissection of a performer at the peak of his narcissism, at the Museum of Contemporary Art's Ahmanson Auditorium.
It's tempting to speculate on exactly who inspired "me." Let's guess that it's based on Fleck's observations of the stars, as a Hollywood character actor, as well as his own brush with celebrity as one of the "NEA Four."
Massive egos exist in many workplaces. But the overwhelming lures of Hollywood fame make L.A. an especially appropriate city for "me." Movie/TV/pop industry types may find that here is one performance piece they won't consider too abstract or esoteric.
A TV screen provides our first view of Fleck. As we take our seats, the on-screen Fleck poses with his hands framing his face. He wears a big, artificially winsome smile as his eyes look heavenward. This is no freeze-frame. Fleck holds the pose for a long time. But the effort begins to show--the hands wobble, the smile cracks. Self-worship can be hard work.
This becomes obvious as Fleck in person, scantily dressed in black, emerges from below the TV and groans through a set of warm-up exercises. Soon a video crew arrives to begin preparing for Fleckfest, which begins with a slow, close-up pan over his body--while the star himself snoozes.
Awakened, he vocalizes (in falsetto: "Me, me, me"). Then, behind a distorted mirror atop the TV, he brandishes mouthwash, a cigarette--whatever helps him get through the performance.
And what exactly does he perform? What kind of talent merits this microscopic self-absorption?
The performer in "me" appears to be nothing more than an over-the-hill lounge singer/schmoozer. Most of the singing is modeled on others' work, while most of the schmoozing is about himself, his staff's incompetence, and--at least on opening night--his loudly proclaimed "raging heterosexuality."
He lifts his first song right off a Judy Garland recording: "You're gonna love me, come rain or come shine."
His relationship with his audience is complicated. At first he speaks to us with his back to us, via the TV monitor, as he graphically illustrates his foot fetish--or is it a sneakers fetish? Then he becomes obsessed with one front-row member of the audience (actually an actress)--not for herself, of course. Instead, he decides to remake her image. But when her image begins to overwhelm his, he's not pleased.
He smears the TV screen with styling mousse, walks offstage, shouts at hapless underlings, does an onstage tally of the costs and receipts from "me"--it's tantrum time. But finally he's pacified. It helps when one of his crew members powders his rear end.
Meanwhile, off to the side, additional TV monitors offer commentary on the events onstage. A Dr. Jeanie Bellows (Fleck in drag) provides an academic analysis, while a butch-looking guy (again, Fleck) makes more blunt remarks.
In Fleck's finale, he becomes the centerpiece of an array of video images from nature--vegetables are a big motif (Adam Soch, designer). Fleck's just a natural force, right? Sunset imagery builds up to a "The End." But it isn't the end. Actually, it's hard to pinpoint the end. As we leave, we're confronted with a display of Fleck artifacts and a table where Flecksters hawk T-shirts and videos.
It's a brief show--not much longer than an hour. Although Fleck's theme is self-indulgence, he and co-director Randee Trabitz paced their work so it doesn't seem unintentionally self-indulgent.
The subject isn't exactly fresh. But with his long limbs and askew face and throbbing voice, Fleck is such a distinctive clown that "me," appropriately enough, assumes a comic personality all its own.
* "me," Museum of Contemporary Art Ahmanson Auditorium, 250 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Ends April 1. $15. (213) 626-6828. Running time: 1 hour, 15 minutes.