Muffin Face Exploits the Comedy of Discomfort
Couched in the weird, inhuman language of self-actualization seminars (primarily about how to meet your "entertainment needs"), Muffin Face is a one-man, preshow briefing to prepare you for the mysterious, "life-changing experience" called "Muffin Face." Your host is solo performer Keith Hitchcock—with his smarmy, toilet-brush goatee, he looks and acts like a young Republican on the hunt for some of that loose Democrat pussy he's been hearing about. Hitchcock hits on an audience member during the show and has brief, awkward dates with her throughout.
Aside from some PowerPoint slides and a few testimonial videos—about how Muffin Face "transcends race and gender" and adds "more dimensionality" to your life—all eyes are on Hitchcock as he splendidly reproduces the awkward faux-casualness of a TV huckster. Hitchcock is committed and pursues the comedy of unease all the way to its end.
Everything about the show is designed for the audience's discomfort. Much of the seating is in the middle of the room, at a conference table, under glaring fluorescent lights. Just when the rest of the audience is congratulating itself for not sitting at the table, Hitchcock shakes everyone's hands and makes everybody change seats (a flow chart is provided for ease of movement). The sound design, by Rob Witmer of "Awesome," evokes the most putrescent in bland, corporate-video background music. It's deliciously discomfiting.
The problem with these sorts of Tristram Shandy conceits—preparing you for a story that never starts—is twofold: The audience comes away either humiliated for daring to want to be entertained or frustrated with dramatic blue balls. Hitchcock finds a clever, generous way to resolve these issues in Muffin Face. The whole thing comes together as a wonky, backhanded love letter to theater. The seminar host insists that in your life there is a "before Muffin Face" and an "after Muffin Face"—but isn't that true of every play? Muffin Face's greatest pleasure pivots on the weird fact that you can never enjoy now because it's too busy becoming then.