THE FAN MAROO

Dennis Miles' The Fan Maroo is, on one level, a wild and successful parody of celebrity worship. Yet not only does Miles skillfully render the vast catalogue of weirdnesses that extreme "fans" are capable of, he also cuts to the heart of what these obsessions are about, treating his subject with surprising tenderness. Miles posits that these obsessions are not mere distractions that help us pass time; they serve a far more significant purpose, helping us ward off life's most threatening demons: meaninglessness, loneliness, and despair. Indeed when Miles' character Demuth makes the following point, we know just what he means: "Life is kind of lonely and crazy. And when things get lonely, our thoughts become sort of … embarrassingly pathetic."

As our central loony Maroo Montrose, Kirsten Vangsness gives us a portrait of the artist as a youngish basket case. Emotional and infantile, she nonetheless charms us as we quickly discover what her flailing life is about: bad poetry, bad art, and an all-consuming obsession with B-movie star Cathleen Wilder. An open mic session that begins the evening shows her failing miserably before a booing audience as she shouts about the "revolution," declares a "moratorium on all technology," and tells us "only Cathleen Wilder gives me meaning." (The open mic session also gives opportunity for real-life local artists to open Miles' show each night.)

Of course, Maroo's life gets worse before it gets better. Forced to get a job after her roommate leaves her, Maroo proceeds to give the worst job interview imaginable: "I am desperate," she shrieks at her potential employer Demuth Long. But one mention of Cathleen Wilder and Demuth (a brilliantly adept Gene Michael Barrera) transforms into a giddy, new best friend. He loves Cathleen Wilder, too. Indeed their shared love gives them an almost jarringly immediate bond in a world so lacking in human connection that even Demuth's sex life takes place online.

It's not long before the two embark on a walking pilgrimage to Victorville to hunt down Wilder on the set of her latest film, stopping along the way to commune with other (even weirder, more obsessed) fans. The pilgrimage is indeed a pilgrimage in the true, religious sense—filling these two souls with essentials that are not so easy to find: purpose, freedom, and a sense that they are part of a larger community, however strange its shared rituals.

The second-rate diva Wilder appears throughout the piece in hilariously stylized film excerpts (expertly directed by Kiff Scholl). As Wilder, Carolyn Hennesy strikes the perfect combination of old movie glamour tinged with desperation.

Miles' script could stand a few small nips and tucks—a handful of scenes feel somewhat bloated and continue long after they have achieved their purpose. Yet on the whole, The Fan Maroo is an offbeat, affectionate exploration of a common solution to a universal need.

"The Fan Maroo," presented by and at Theatre of NOTE, 1517 Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood. Thu.-Sat. 8 p.m. Mar. 5-Apr. 17. $15. (323) 856-8611.