The Return Of Brother Theodore

"I have looked into the abyss, and the abyss has looked into me, and neither of us liked what we saw." So said Brother Theodore. The name may not be familiar to younger audiences (he died six years ago) but in his day he achieved celebrity as a performer of surreal monologues, which he termed "standup tragedy," in theatres, clubs, and on Late Night With David Letterman. He looked decidedly sinister, and some people were afraid of him. His surreal stream-of-consciousness rants were all the more hilarious and alarming because one could never be sure whether he was serious. One of his early themes was his crusade for the prevention of indecency among animals. He urged us to put trousers on our four-legged friends and provide brassieres for cows.

Now writer-performer Robert Trebor is cleverly resurrecting Theodore, in a show he says is "70 percent Theodore and 30 percent imagined." Trebor doesn't look much like Theodore (whose real name was Theodore Gottlieb), but he is uncannily successful in evoking his aura. And Trebor, like Theodore, is a master at playing his audience. Toward the end of his wonderfully funny show, he segues into a thoroughly serious account of the facts of Gottlieb's life: Born in D端sseldorf, Germany, Gottlieb and his family were imprisoned by the Nazis in 1939. His parents and sister died in the death camps, but Gottlieb was able to obtain his freedom by selling all the family's numerous properties and possessions to the German government for one Deutsche Mark — less than $1. Eventually his friend Albert Einstein helped him escape to America.

I became acquainted with Gottlieb back in 1961. He was a strange and probably tormented man, but offstage he possessed a childlike sweetness and vulnerability. It's a treat to see Trebor's masterly and affectionate re-creation of Theodore's life and work. And I suspect Theodore would have liked it.

Presented by Camelot Artists at the Skylight Theatre, 1816-1/2 N. Vermont Ave., Los Feliz. Sat. 8:30 p.m. Apr. 14-May 5. (310) 358-9936.