Make it a “BLOCKBUSTER (GUY) NIGHT”!: A Review

Who is Mark Levy?  Well, let’s let him introduce himself:

“I, Mark Levy, am a full-fledged movie nerd!”

A gifted performance artist and storyteller, Mark’s love for all things cinematic started as a child of the ’90’s, when renting movies from a relatively new store named Blockbuster (Both Blockbuster and Mark were born in 1985.) was still a Friday night family affair.  His options were limited to movies rated “PG”, with his parents’ permission of course. (Here’s a fascinating piece of trivia: Mark’s first R-rated rental was… Con-Air starring Nicholas Cage!) In young adulthood, Mark found the perfect way to embrace his cinephilic calling. As a college student, he started working at Blockbuster Video in the small town of Palatka, Florida (population 10,446…), where he really found a sense of identity.  It was there that he became a celebrity of sorts.  What was Mark’s nickname?  Two guesses won’t be necessary: He was well-known as …“Blockbuster Guy”!  Fast forward to 2022, and Blockbuster Guy, Levy’s Award-winning one-man show, has been revived as one of the highlights of the 2022 Frigid Festival at The Kraine Theatre in New York City’s East Village.  Levy’s Blockbuster Guy, directed by Kristen Keim, is a funny and smart piece of nostalgia, both personally for the artist himself as well as for everyone who remembers those laminated blue membership cards or the irreplicable thrill of invading the store’s wall of “New Releases (!)” every Tuesday morning. 

Before we even meet Mark Levy, the audience was warmed up with real Blockbuster training videos.  When looked at through a 2022 lens, these videos are very funny, very corny, and VERY 1990.  When watched with a well-inebriated audience today, they can be entertainment in their own right, despite their most serious intentions at the time.   For those who came into adulthood when something called Netflix was slowly gaining muscle mass, it may be hard to believe just HOW seriously Blockbuster took itself… and just how much power the company had over hardcore movie lovers like me.  I, for one, remember how they teased tortured us with a typical four week wait time from when a film went from the big screen to home video.  So, if you missed the movie in theaters, you were, well… “S.O.L” for at least a month! While I remember that very vividly, I was racking my brain when Mark asked the audience early on in the show, “What was the first video you rented from Blockbuster?”  I haven’t slept since I saw Levy’s show on Wednesday, February 16th, staying awake at night trying to remember… 

As mentioned before, Levy is a gifted storyteller.  And, oh, the STORIES! Although Levy looks back as his Blockbuster employment as “probably the worst paying job” he ever had, there’s no doubt that it was a formative time of his young, movie-loving life.  His stories about his Blockbuster “family” of co-workers– a motley crew of colorful characters– is no less than priceless.  When he recalls finally moving on from that job, it’s impossible not to get a little teary-eyed, especially when he concurrently talks about the 2020 documentary The Last Blockbuster… which is available to watch, prophetically, on Netflix.  Levy gives his take on everything from “movies that have no idea how bad they really are”, to campy gems like the 1980’s bomb Miami Connection, to movies that helped shape pop culture like the 1996 horror classic Scream.  He’s also not shy about sharing his thoughts on the TV series How I Met Your Mother, his passionate take of which is almost a mini show within the show.  The audience clearly loved it, as evident by their uproarious laughter.  

At just under an hour, Blockbuster Guy packs a wallop. The show is hilarious, culturally relevant, and poignant all at once.  Bolstered by some creative video projections and audio effects, the piece is a fine showcase of Levy’s enthusiastic brand of charisma.   Mark Levy is a personality who could keep the party going even after the Wi-Fi goes out.  Hey, there was even a wardrobe change! Anyone who sees this will no doubt want a repeated viewing.  So, Mark, please follow your own advice to all those Blockbuster customers in Palatka, Florida (population 10,446…) : “Be Kind, Rewind!”

Blockbuster Guy, written and performed by Mark Levy, and directed by Kristen Keim, is part of the Frigid Festival.  The next showing is March 4 at 6:30PM at The Kraine Theatre, 85 East 4th Street, NYC. Tickets: $20 in person/$15 for virtual. Visit www.frigid.nyc/event/6897:57 for more information.

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