Richard Saudek, the creator and performer of the one-man show, Beep Boop, is a self-confessed “idiot who likes to make faces at himself in the mirror.” If his program bio is to be believed, “when he was ten, he ran off to perform in the circus as a young clown, then left the circus at the age of sixteen to pursue other theatrical stuff, such as commedia dell’arte in Florence; improv in Chicago; stilt-walking in Shanghai; burlesque opposite Steve Buscemi; and has portrayed madmen and fools for over a decade all over NYC.” Whether Saudek’s resume is 100 percent accurate or not, one thing is certain: his kind of rigorous talent does not happen overnight.
Beep Boop shows us both a dark, dystopian world where devices—phones, tablets and laptops—are the demons, but it’s also a very silly place. Man is at the demons’ every beck and call, bombarded by “beep boop”—a constant command that must be obeyed. The result is pure hilarity and well-deserved deference.
In this hourlong production, directed by Wes Grantom, Saudek plays an unnamed character, a white-faced, poor-postured clown who defers to his phone at the expense of everything else, including his social life, his love life, life itself. He defies the urban landscape with the aloof arrogance of a man on his phone who just doesn’t care, to the chaotic and catastrophic sound effects of traffic, car horns, and crashes (Brendan Aanes provides the sound design; Nora Kaye is the foley artist). His manual dexterity fuels his ego and powers his existence—sending and receiving messages with flair and fancy footwork, so when he falls down a mineshaft, or some other such deep hole, he comes up texting. Not dead yet, neck aerodynamically craned over his cellphone, he rides the subway, arrives home, prepares and cooks dinner (which he doesn’t eat but only snaps a photo of, then tosses away), and fawns and drools over his multiple choice of devices, presenting a day in the life of an obsessive fool worshipping at the screen of his cybergod.
While Saudek refrains from speaking, apart from “beep boop,” his body is a splendid storyteller; he is a crackerjack physical performer, displaying traits and business that call to mind other clowns, comedians and cartoon characters such as Art Carney’s Ed Norton; Rowan Atkinson’s Mr. Bean; and Blondie’s Dagwood Bumstead. For a wordless script, no finer points could have been put onto paper.
Saudek’s observations of humanity in the 21st century are sad but true. His gift in this show is an ability to illuminate the darkness with a nonstop circus—one that features his body as one entity and his hands and fingers another, completely separate one. And at the end of the day, when the digital activity slows to a halt, the split-second silence is too much to bear. As loneliness looms, Body has to prevent Hands and Fingers from going over the edge (of the kitchen counter) to their untimely end.
Will Beep Boop change the world? Not likely. Will it make you laugh out loud and think twice next time you text? Without a doubt.
The Crowded Outlet production of Beep Boop returns for a limited engagement through Feb. 17 at the 14th Street Y (344 E. 14th St. at First Avenue). Evening performances are at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; matinees are at 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Tickets at $35 and are available by calling (646) 395-4310 or visiting 14streety.org.