‘Flinch Gordon’ Ping-perfect

If the Overtime Theater were a cult, John Poole would be its charismatic prophet. He leads a handful of faithful devotees, who range from seasoned comedians to oddly refreshing n00bs, back to a golden time when “a sparkler in a paper towel tube was a rocket ship.”

Flinch Gordon and the Return of Ping the Perilous follows anti-hero Flinch (Scott McDowell), bumbling scientist Dr. Zonkov (Bill Martin), and damsel-with-attitude Dale (Lucy Villaneuva) through a distant galaxy. Narrated by a 1930s radio announcer, the threesome tries to defeat Ping the Perilous and find its way back to earth.

The plot is indulgently self-aware, and cheesy gags run rampant. Most of the jokes are fresh, but the writer distrusts his comic ability so punchlines repeat and eventually wear thin. The hammy narrative succeeds overall but the overflowing self-reference hinders Flinch from greatness. Playwright/director/actor Poole wants it all and almost gets it in his postmodern parody/pastiche/homage with musical inclinations (it’s not so much a musical as a play that can’t help but burst into song). But whatever Overtime lacks in modesty it makes up for in sheer effort. With 32 nearly consecutive shows, Flinch could be San Antonio’s Cats.

In order to relate a highlight from Flinch I must make an embarrassing confession. The cast invokes Pauly Shore during an über-meta moment as the patron saint of bad, over-paid actors; they later segue into a Weird Al adaptation of John Denver’s “Country Boy.” I was probably alone, but I enjoyed a warm memory of The Weasel in Son in Law singing the same tune while crop-circling his name into a wheat field with a tractor (a fact I was able to verify since I own the VHS; there, I said it).

Poole saves the best one-liners for Ping the Perilous (Deborah Basham-Burns), who steals the show with a bizarre physicality that’s both sprightly and androgynous. If Poole is Overtime’s visionary, then Ping is the object of its fervent devotion. On stage, s/he shows cool composure as if s/he is really from an alien planet and our friends at Overtime built a show around her/him (like Pauly Shore did for Brendan Fraser in Encino Man. Full circle, anyone?).

Ping is essentially a best-of collection of famous bad guys, but relies heavily on Dr. Evil (who’s just a mix-tape of Bond villains). I would have liked to see pure Ping without direct impressions of Mike Myers’ “ev-illlll,” but side-by-side with Flinch Gordon (Scott McDowell) and Dr. Zonkov (Bill Martin), the comic trio saves an otherwise derivative flop.

And what self-respecting parody could resist political allegory? Look for Poole’s Al Gore and Scott McDowell’s charming hunk-a hunk-a George W. Bush. Another jewel is Radio Man (Larry Sands) who showcases an authentic 1930s costume and accent. He leads us in audience participation, like kids listening to The Lone Ranger — booing Ping, cheering Flinch, staying awake past bedtime.

Capped at one hour, Flinch Gordon won’t keep you up past yours, and you can bring kids to the 7:30 show (Youngsters loved the chorus lines and missed the cryptic adult jokes.).

Poole dedicates Flinch Gordon and the Return of Ping the Perilous to a Mrs. Hildebrand who gave him an ‘F’ in conduct for a poem he wrote. To soothe that wound, I’ll pass him on this assignment for making me laugh and for refusing to conform to standards of sanity. Mrs. Hildebrand thanks you for the teacher discount.


Flinch Gordon and the Return of Ping the Perilous
Two shows nightly, 7:30pm & 9pm
Dec 20-22, 28-29; Jan 3-5, 10-12
$9 general, $5 teachers
The Overtime Theater
1216 West Avenue
(210) 380-0326