On Stage: all things crass and kitschy | Calendar | Chicago Reader

On Stage: all things crass and kitschy 

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"If you're an angel and you're coming to earth, and you want to pick a body to be in, why not put a little flair into it? You know? Why go out and be some doof?" says Kevin Kling of one of the characters in his play Lloyd's Prayer. "I wouldn't. I'd pick somebody that's got something going for them." Kling brings a uniquely skewed logic to his story of a boy who's raised by raccoons, exploited by a con man named Lloyd, and inadvertently seduced by an angel of the lord--a gum-snapping, small-town beauty queen. Taking the cultural flotsam of contemporary America as its setting, Kling's play juxtaposes the sublime and the venal to darkly hilarious effect.

Brushing his dirty-blond hair off his brow, Kling admits that he pays close attention to all that is kitsch and crass because "a lot of times the cheesier something is, the more somebody's taking it seriously." As an example, Kling cites a character in Lloyd's Prayer who dresses up as a porpoise and solicits donations for the raccoon boy's rehabilitation on late-night TV. The character, he says, was lifted intact from reality. "I saw 'Porpy.' It was a hot day in New York, 95 degrees, humid as could be. Out comes this guy in a foam-rubber fish suit--and he was white it was so hot--sweating through the whole day, smoking a cigarette in one of his fins, singing a song called 'Fishing For Jesus.' Evidently he was spiritually driven, 'cause nobody could have stood the heat he was going through."

Lloyd's Prayer includes several ingeniously loopy spiels from Lloyd in his carnival huckster-televangelist modes, but Kling insists he's not antireligion. "I think the idea of salvation is wonderful. So many people go through hard times, it pulls you through. It's just when you take it and twist that idea to better your financial situation or to get a good old war started. You can't tell people, 'Let's have an economic war, yeah!' No. So you slip some religion in there so you can win their hearts. It's Dale Carnegie at its finest when it's working good."

Kling says he deliberately moves the action in Lloyd's Prayer "from the animal kingdom to the human kingdom to the kingdom of the beyond. Bob, the raccoon boy, is coming from the animal kingdom. Seeing a trap, knowing it's a trap, and choosing to put his arm in it is a first step into the human world for him."

Kling says he decided on a raccoon-raised boy as his central character because he grew up in the country. "I had raccoons for pets, so I know how they wash their food, hold their hands, and chatter. The funny thing about raccoons: You could hold them, pet them, do anything you wanted--they were great. But as soon as you smiled, they would see your teeth and freak out. And they would attack you, 'cause you were baring your teeth. So Bob the raccoon boy never trusts a smile." Kling pauses. "How many times would you have saved yourself a little bit of trouble if you did the same? Because a lot of times a smile coming at you doesn't mean what you'd hope."

Most of Kling's plays are about characters on the fringe--a piece he just finished depicts a society of dwarfs. "That's why I'm a playwright--because I am able to switch into other identities. A lot of times when I write, I'm more or less just doing dictation from the person that's talking to you. Like there's this whole thing in the play with the Pharisees. I didn't even know what a Pharisee was, but the guy in my head was Lloyd, and when he used the word, I just went with it. And it turned out that he was using it in the right context, which was a surprise to me, but not to Lloyd."

Until a few years ago, Kling's approach to creating plays was remarkably casual. "I would perform them, mostly one-man kind of things, and then they would be done and go into the universe somewhere. Maybe they'd be on the back of Snickers wrappers or somewhere, but never in typed form."

Theatrically inclined from an early age, Kling studied acting in college, ran a Minneapolis childrens' theater in the late 70s, and then walked on stilts in a circus. When his 21-A wowed the critics at Louisville's prestigious Humana Festival in 1984, it paved the way for Lloyd's Prayer, which was well received at the festival last spring in a performance featuring Kling as the raccoon boy.

For all his recent success, Kling still lives in a communal house of actors in Minneapolis and thrives on the unpredictable nature of his profession. "This buddy called me up from Spain. Says 'Whaddya doin' in December?'

"'It is December.'

"'Well come on over here, choreograph this company.'

"I said, 'I don't even know how to dance.' But I went over there and choreographed a musical with this guy. I never know when the phone's gonna ring and some crazy sucker's gonna have an idea, and then I'll be gone again."

The Remains Theatre production of

Lloyd's Prayer runs through October 23 at the Goodman Theatre Studio, 200 S. Columbus Drive. Shows are 7:30 PM Tuesday through Thursday, 8 on Friday and Sunday, 5:30 and 9 on Saturday. Tickets are $14 Sunday and Tuesday through Thursday, $18 Friday and Saturday. Reservations and information at 443-3800.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jon Randolph.

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More by Hugh Boulware

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