the Beaver Trilogy directed by Trent Harris, at Innis Town Hall Theatre (2 Sussex), tonight (Thursday, February 19) at 7:30 pm. $8. 416-971-8405. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
So reality television isn't really that real. Real life is people watching reality TV, wishing they were on TV. Like Groovin' Gary. Groovin' Gary got his dream chance at a TV appearance in 1979 but only achieved a reasonable level of fame in 2000 when Trent Harris released his Beaver Trilogy.
Have you heard of Groovin' Gary, the Beaver Kid and Olivia Newton John impersonator extraordinaire? No? Sean Penn played him in The Beaver Kid #2. Crispin Glover played him in The Orkly Kid. Groovin' Gary was the self-proclaimed Rich Little of Beaver, Utah.
Harris first bumped into Groovin' Gary in a TV station parking lot in Salt Lake City in 1979. Gary's one of those rare oddball personalities that you just can't invent, the kind who make perfect documentary fodder. He was so open, impersonating John Wayne and Sly Stallone and interspersing his speech with infectious goofy chuckles, that Harris was quick to jump when Gary invited him to the town of Beaver to tape the local talent show.
What unfolded was strange yet beautiful. Gary had his makeup done by the local mortician and, dressed as a close approximation of Olivia Newton John, did a butcher job on Please Don't Keep Me Waiting in front of a small small-town audience. Edited into a half-hour documentary, it's a very powerful, unusual, surprisingly tender and moving spectacle.
What makes it all the more interesting is that Harris re-staged the whole documentary again in 1981, this time starring a Fast Times At Ridgemont High-era Sean Penn. Gary becomes Groovin' Larry and Trent Harris becomes Terrence in this porno-grade black-and-white dramatization in which Penn mimics Groovin' Gary's every move. Instead of sentimental, this version feels cheap and sleazy. Harris alters the story, blurring fact with fiction and revealing how he was in fact exploiting Larry (er, Gary).
The third instalment, 1985's The Orkly Kid, stars a very young and already odd Crispin Glover. Shot on film this time, the story now feels like a movie of the week. Full of new material (fact or fiction?), the film shows Groovin' Larry desperate to escape his small town (Orkly instead of Beaver) via TV stardom after receiving the town's open scorn for his drag performance.
In the end, it's more than a little confusing. But it's good confusion - the kind that makes you ask important questions like: What's real and what's a performance? Is Penn's Groovin' Larry more real than Gary's Groovin' Gary? Is Gary a big Olivia Newton John fan or a big Olivia Newton John? Who knew Please Don't Keep Me Waiting was such a catchy tune? Trent Harris evokes impersonator Groovin' Gary in wonderfully confusing ways