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White Collar Comedy: Josh Kornbluth (right) plays a temp who tries to go permanent in the film, 'Haiku Tunnel,' a special presentation of the Z Festival of New Performance, co-written and directed by Josh and his brother Jacob Kornbluth (left) .

Temporary Insanity

Will the real Josh Kornbluth please stand up?

By Peter Crimmins

ACTORS OFTEN CREATE lasting personalities through their screen characters (think of Woody Allen, Marilyn Monroe, Spalding Gray); but what happens when those projected personalities prove to be just that--constructed characters?

For instance, is Bay Area actor/monologist Josh Kornbluth an endearing nebbish like the character named, strangely enough, "Josh Kornbluth"?

Endearing he may be, but Josh Kornbluth insists he is not the "Josh Kornbluth" of the new film Haiku Tunnel.

Kornbluth's film began 10 years ago as a one-man stage show about the vexations of a modern office worker. The screen adaptation was commissioned by the Z Space Studio in 1999 and co-written and co-directed with Jake Kornbluth, his brother. At last year's Z Fest, Josh performed the monologue live and screened clips from the film-in-progress. For this year's Z Festival (see sidebar), the brothers Kornbluth will attend the Santa Cruz screening and will be interviewed afterward by local film authority Morton Marcus.

Haiku Tunnel begins with a monologue, of course; Josh introduces us to "Josh Kornbluth," the character whose story we are about to see, set in a mythical town called "San Franclisco," where he works for a lawyer named "Bob Shelby," who the real Josh Kornbluth assures us is nothing like the lawyer for whom he used to work.

The disclaimer has the opposite effect of its intention, and therein lies the joke. We fully expect the following story to be the gospel truth hiding behind thin alterations.

"Just because the character is named Josh Kornbluth," said Jake, "and the guy who's telling you that the character's name is Josh Kornbluth is also named Josh Kornbluth ... that should not lead you to believe that that is actually true in any way."

Josh has been performing in the Bay Area for over a decade. Jake began partnering with Josh in directing theater pieces after working various factory and temporary jobs.

"Josh Kornbluth," the character, is a temp. And he's happy as a temp. Josh and Jake have punched the temp clock enough to know the vaguely subversive freedom of being a lowly, expendable out-hire. No commitments and no take-home worries free up creative energies that "Josh" uses to tap out a novel that may never get finished.

Haiku Tunnel shows temp employment as a kind of Zen state, with free-floating workers outside looking in, impervious to the blows of the professional world. Perhaps "Josh" is too old for this state of suspended animation or maybe he sees the futility; the film picks up when he realizes he can no longer suffer "the unbearable lightness of temping" and is enticed to go perm.

A late-night fight with an aloof copier, a frustrating tête-à-tête with a stubborn envelope moistener, an intimate relationship with a voicemail system and--the coup de grâce--a pile of 17 unmailed letters sitting like a cursed talisman on the edge of the desk: "Josh" faces these secretarial nightmares as part of his daily--and now permanent--responsibilities.

The Kornbluths play with the comedy of obsession. It's one thing to master the phone-transfer system and type 60 wpm; it's something else to know when to head into the coffee room, how to decide what to order for lunch, and how best to compliment an attractive secretary without leering.

"To me, those escapes--or an escape into fantasy, or a crush that you might have on some woman who's working down the aisle--those escapes are as essential as coming up for air is when you're swimming underwater. Have a moment when you're actually yourself and you're not an insignificant fringe tangential person in an enormous, heartless-seeming environment," Josh said. "But maybe that's just me."

"Maybe," I said, "but it was nicely articulated."

"Well, that's what we're going for."


Haiku Tunnel (R; 90 min.), written and directed by Jacob Kornbluth and Josh Kornbluth and starring Josh Kornbluth, Warren Keith, Helen Shumaker, Amy Resnick, plays Saturday (Oct. 13) at noon at the Nickelodeon. Admission $10.

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From the October 10-17, 2001 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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