Underground and proud

Pub date February 25, 2010

THEATER It’s difficult enough to want to perform in San Francisco without the added hardship of not quite fitting into someone else’s concept of “performance.” And the unclassifiable Dan Carbone must surely be one of the hardest acts to shoehorn into a hapless festival curator’s vision. As a performer who regularly skirts the way-out edge between the surreal and the downright schizophrenic, he’s had the dubious honor of being shut out of the comedy club circuit, kicked off the stage at San Francisco’s now-defunct Dadafest, and not selling out the house of numerous local and national “standard” venues.

But Carbone’s ability to evoke the most unconventional of worlds — beginning with his classic one-act Up From the Ground, involving a mysterious giant flower in a Southern cornfield, and most recently with his “one man space opera” Kingdom of Not — has been discomfiting and astonishing audiences and critics on for more than 10 years, and he has the accolades, if not the ticket sales to prove it.

“The SF theater world has no idea what I’m about,” Carbone confesses via e-mail. “They don’t know what to do with me.” Originally an experimental filmmaker, Carbone’s off-kilter performance aesthetic and penchant for dream logic meshes more readily with his silver screen collaborators (including the inimitable Kuchar brothers) than with his more traditionally linear solo show peers. So what’s a decidedly noncommercial, genre-shredding, avant-gardian to do to widen the scope of his influence? Start his own damn performance series, of course.

To kick start this series with a serious bang, Carbone is hosting professional provocateur-comedian Rick Shapiro in his second San Francisco appearance. A former drug addict and homeless rent boy, Shapiro’s own slow rise (literally, up from the ground) serves as ample fodder for his mercurial rants against the status quo, and his unstructured, stream-of-consciousness performance style once earned him the moniker “the James Joyce of comedy.” Or as Carbone puts it, “He’s the only guy on the circuit who not only tells dick jokes but also riffs on Sartre and Kierkegaard — and does so simultaneously.” Their shared inability to write for the mainstream, which has precipitated this joining of forces, will test the theory that art is at its best when designed to suit its creators — not its curators.

March 6, Carbone performs his two most celebrated solo shows, Up from the Ground and Here be Monsters, and premiere a show of works April 3 (both at the Dark Room Theater; check Web site for details). But his ultimate goal is collaboration. “The lesson,” he concludes, “is I need to start my own scene.” Dan Carbone and Rick Shapiro Sat/27, 10 p.m., $8 Dark Room Theater 2263 Mission, SF (415) 401-7987