Carnival Knowledge

by Tony Phillips

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday October 12, 2009

Naomi Grossman
Naomi Grossman   

I liked performance artist Naomi Grossman even before she stepped out onto the stage for her latest one-woman offering, Carnival Knowledge. On line for the bathroom before this brisk rollercoaster ride kicked off, a friend of hers told me that she and Naomi used to drive those little MINI Coopers with the giant Red Bull cans on top around Hollywood. It made it easy to believe that much of what transpired over the next 70 minutes might have some actual basis in fact and It's not a bad metaphor for Grossman herself: a diminutive, five foot tall firecracker with a giant jolt of energy strapped to her roof.

The show concerns Grossman's dating habits blown out across the carnival that is Hollywood. Grossman pulls each of this show's nine chapter titles -- in the form of giant carnival tickets showcased overhead prize fight-style -- from a red and white striped ticket booth before delving into some of the many hideous men she's dated. Think of it as your best girlfriend who's always ringing up to whine about her man troubles, but in this case your best girlfriend is hysterical funny and has you laughing along as opposed to wanting to bitch slap her with the telephone receiver.

Grossman stalks the tiny Lex Theatre stage in a black top-hatted getup that's halfway between Britney and Cher (apt, as Grossman is not a girl, not yet a cougar). "What is it with me and the freaks and geeks?" she asks and this question pretty much through-lines the show and its catalog of some of the dating oddities Los Angeles has on offer. There's the Trader Joe's "hot in that freezer" milk stockboy who offers the dating transportation options of his skateboard or his dad's van. Then there's the guy who's too nice. After he moves all of her belongings out of her apartment after a flood, Grossman whines, "He touched my stuff!" There's even a date in a chicken suit who's either the dude who holders that giant arrow by the side of the road pointing in to the Pollo Loco or "the kinkiest guy alive." Grossman's not sure which, but agrees to a date on the condition that he shows up in the chicken suit. "What was I, a furry?" she asks.

The dates whiz by, but bring Grossman no closer to finding her soulmate. The carnival metaphor is at times as rickety as a ride at the L.A. County Fair and Grossman's punning sometimes goes up and over the top, but still, there's gold in them there Hollywood Hills. There's an elderly porn star, a yoga teacher and even a goodly part of a visiting Argentine soccer team behind Grossman's automatic garage style Dating Game doors before she comes to the realization that love was sitting in her driveway the whole time. Yeah, you see him coming from miles away, but Grossman's prince finally arrives in the form of the her best friend and neighbor upon whose door she's always pounding after her dates crash and burn. Sure, it's trite, but Grossman doesn't belabor the point. And it sets her up nicely for a sequel, because, come on, all that late night, post-date hand-holding? You know her price is a queen. Now pass the Red Bull, put a little vodka in it and let's hear that story, Naomi.

Tony Phillips covers the arts for The Village Voice, Frontiers and The Advocate. He's also the proud parent of a new website: