By James Bartholomew
Bad news – there’s an asteroid on a direct collision course with Earth and all life on the planet will be obliterated within the hour. For Pier Valentino (writer and performer Nico Grelli), there’s only one thing left to do in his final moments: broadcast his semiregular late‑night public access television show from the basement of his mother’s Focacceria. You’d be hard‑pressed to find a premise more ridiculous, but “Pier Valentino’s: Show Without End (The Final Broadcast)” leans into the absurdity, resulting in a show that’s wonderfully campy and deeply hilarious.
Pier Valentino’s signature variety show, Show Without End, has been running weekly (and sometimes biweekly) on public access television at an unspecified time between midnight and 4am. After ten years of basement broadcasts following Barry Weatherjam’s Bagpipe and Kazoo Jamboree Hour, Pier isn’t going to let one tiny little cataclysmic apocalypse interrupt his standard programming. Instead, he continues his show of guided prayer, interviews, musical accompaniment, storytelling, stand‑up comedy, and listener call‑ins.
Stitching all of that nuanced world‑building together is a clever show‑within‑a‑show conceit that sees Pier checking the corners of the stage for cameras and calling out to his producer for assistance during the broadcast. As the bewildered host attempts to run through his usual segments, he finds himself predictably roadblocked by the threat of the coming asteroid that’s kept his crew and regular comedian (his mother) from joining him for the final show. Knowing that the world will soon quite literally crash down around him, Pier soldiers on while gradually venting his pent‑up rage before his inevitable death at the end of the play.
This being a workshop performance, the specifics of that end aren’t as well‑defined as the rest of the piece, but Mr. Grelli has mastered the role of Pier. The well‑meaning TV host is something of a neurotic mess, albeit kind, soft‑spoken and endlessly endearing. The self‑described “sea creature masquerading as a mammal” has some far‑out ideas, mostly concerning the all‑knowing Olive Duchess, an omnipotent spiritual being who occasionally speaks through Pier as he addresses his “humble freaks and gentle geeks.” But even with his otherworldly communions, Pier is gentle and fragile enough to be adorably sympathetic.
Despite how utterly bizarre Pier and his world truly are, “Show Without End (The Final Broadcast)” is funny enough for it all to work. Just about every joke lands – almost always at Pier’s expense – and the constant flow of new segments helps build on the already sturdy premise and keeps the pace moving at an even clip. Even the lo‑fi production values feel appropriate to the story being told.
From the outset, it’s clear that something isn’t quite right with Pier, who struggles to keep his inner anger in check throughout the show. That battle is echoed in his frantic attempts at normalcy despite the literal ticking clock of the coming destruction. Pier never cathartically accepts his impending death, but for a play of such clear promise, there’s reason to be hopeful that the finished piece will deliver a sounder resolution.
Layered in dark humor and cunningly simple in its staging, “Pier Valentino’s: Show Without End (The Final Broadcast)” is confident enough not merely to be aware of its shortcomings, but to fully embrace them in loving appreciation. It is a treat for anyone with a fondness for hammy theatrics and charming oddities. Keep an eye out for the finished product.
“Pier Valentino’s: Show Without End (The Final Broadcast)”
Performed by Nico Grelli
December 13, 14 at 7pm, 2018
Directed by Nidia Medina
Photo: Jody Christopherson
435 W 22nd St.
New York City
JAMES BARTHOLOMEW is a writer and musician living in New York City. He is an administrator of the Fordham University Theatre Program and an avid lover of the arts.