The eerie parallels between Superman and Lypsinka can no longer be ignored. Each is an exaggerated version of a manly or feminine ideal. Both might view a red cape as a legitimate fashion statement. Both look good in form-fitting apparel. And now, thanks to "Show Trash," the final, vital piece of evidence slips into place: Both have mild-mannered alter-egos.
Clark Kent, we knew. But what of slender, unassuming John Epperson, who gazes at us tentatively from a baby grand on the Studio Theatre stage? Epperson is the man behind the woman who's really a man. Lypsinka is the character he's made a name for himself playing onstage, a creature in heels and plunging necklines who never speaks in her own voice. She forever lip-synchs, with rapid-fire precision, to the dialogue and vocal stylings of vintage movie and Broadway actresses.
As part of a veritable Epperson festival at Studio -- he's already made a splash this month with Lypsinka's "As I Lay Lip-Synching" -- the entertainer banishes Lypsinka to her dressing room and for once materializes as himself. "Show Trash" is his charming cabaret act, a piece that offers us a glimpse of who lurks (and speaks) under the Lancome mask. Epperson, it turns out, is an accomplished musician; he accompanied Makarova and Baryshnikov as a rehearsal pianist for American Ballet Theater. And he uses the occasion to play a little and sing a little in this showcase for his love of show-biz kitsch and forgotten Broadway melodies.
Epperson, it must be said, is no Lypsinka. Is it surprising that he has none of her presence? He is, in fact, humility incarnate, at times looking so embarrassed you'd think someone had put a gun to his head. That Lypsinka is all pose, and Epperson is none at all, is very endearing, and makes a yin-yang kind of sense. After an hour and a half with Epperson, you better understand the ways in which Lypsinka and Epperson complete each other. And, of course, how much they also have in common.
Their bond is apparent in the show's title. As Epperson explains, it's derived from Jennifer Jones's immortal lines in the 1946 turkey, "Duel in the Sun." "I guess I'm just trash, like my ma. . . . Trash, trash, trash, trash, trash, trash!"
"Show Trash" rummages through the attic of Epperson's life. He plays songs he loves from musicals like "The Apple Tree," "Wonderful Town" and "A Chorus Line," sometimes singing the original lyrics, sometimes words he's made up. He's got a voice for show tunes, strong and clear, if a little strained in the upper register. Nevertheless, he's impressive in Leonard Bernstein's challenging "Wrong Note Rag" and delivers a soulful version of the title number from Stephen Sondheim's "Anyone Can Whistle."
The story he tells will be familiar to high school drama-club habitues everywhere: the odd, lonely kid from Hazelhurst, Miss., who was picked on for being sensitive and different. One funny tale he relates involves his first sighting at a tender age of a man in women's clothes, who happened to walk past his house. Hoping to capture the man's attention -- and catching a fleeting whiff of gay life -- Epperson ran to his piano and loudly tapped out a number he assumed would appeal to the stranger: "The Trolley Song," one of Judy Garland's signatures.
Barry Kleinbort's sensitive direction is apparent in the effective use of photographs and home movies to embroider the autobiography. Epperson does impressions, too; although his notion of Katharine Hepburn delivering "Kung Fu Fighting" is delicious, my favorite was Mia Farrow humming the love theme from "Rosemary's Baby." Now that's great show trash.
Wisely, Kleinbort has encouraged Epperson to divest himself of Lypsinka's stylized gestures, to get out there and simply be. Oddly enough, the stripping away brings both the persona and the person more vividly into focus. In discovering Epperson's roots, you more fully grasp Lypsinka's. The fusion is complete. Lypsinka may have the looks and Epperson the soul, but they've both got each other. Epsinka.
Show Trash, created and performed by John Epperson. Directed by Barry Kleinbort. Set, Giorgos Tsappas; lighting, Mark T. Simpson; sound, Gil Thompson; video design, Erik Trester. Approximately 90 minutes. Through Sunday at Studio Theatre, 14th and P streets NW. Call 202-332-3300 or visit www.studiotheatre.org.