Whoopi Goldberg: variations on the theme of humanity; Whoopi Goldberg
New York In the word of one of her characters, Whoopi Goldberg is something else. She is also something different and something new. ''Whoopi Goldberg'' is the title and star of the extraordinary entertainment at the Lyceum Theatre. Director Mike Nichols, who is credited with supervising the production, described this black artist (in a New York Times interview) as ''one part Elaine May, one part Groucho, one part Ruth Draper, one part Richard Pryor, and five parts never before seen.'' The five parts never before seen define Miss Goldberg as a creative performer. At one point before its debut, the show was titled, ''Whoopi Goldberg Variations.'' In her case, the variations are on the theme of humanity. The show opens with Miss Goldberg's introducing a character called Fontaine (''My name is Fontaine/and love is my game.... I'm a thief''). Explaining the articulateness that accompanies his obscenities, the shuffling junkie explains, ''I have a PhD in literature.'' The sketch continues with Fontaine's uproarious version of jetting the Atlantic and ends with a moving account of his visit to Anne Frank's home in Amsterdam and of his encounters with German youth of 1948. Regarding Anne Frank's testimonial of forgiveness, Fontaine says: ''Kids always see hope at the end of the tunnel, and that's why they can be forgiving.'' Fontaine shuffles upstage into the darkness. There is a pause as Miss Goldberg shakes her corkscrew curls and changes character, returning as a Valley Girl whose conversation relies heavily on a stream of ''Okays.'' The sketch begins in hilarity and ends in horror. In an equally mercurial change, Miss Goldberg becomes a cripple who meets the loving man who sees her for what she really is. Instead of mawkishness, there is a kind of nobility to the sketch - along with Miss Goldberg's irrepressible sense of comedy and the ridiculous in almost any situation. ''Whoopi Goldberg'' also features the humorous adventures of a Jamaican woman who becomes the live-in housekeeper and companion for an ancient but lecherous American millionaire; a slyly humorous beggar who once danced with the Nicholas Brothers and cadges quarters from front-row patrons; and finally a black nine-year-old who yearns for luxurious blond hair, blue eyes, and the whiteness essential for her to appear on ''The Love Boat.'' By the end of the sketch Miss Goldberg has coaxed a segment of orchestra spectators into a chain of handclasps that goes from row to row. ''Once you've been able to reach out and touch somebody by the hand, you're free,'' she tells the audience. ''The most wonderful thing about touching somebody - you never know who your fairy godfather might be.'' A notice in the Lyceum lobby offers the warning: ''Please be aware that 'Whoopi Godberg' contains strong language.'' The caution is warranted, for some spectators would find parts of Miss Goldberg's material offensive. But the material is intrinsic to a particular character and its milieu, not just gratuitous sensationalism. More important is the depth of her human comedy as Miss Goldberg explores and observes the human condition. Equally relevant to her show is the Playbill cover illustration that shows a smiling Whoopi Goldberg, having magic-markered her name on the Lyceum marquee, reaching for the stars. — One-woman show. Written and performed by Whoopi Goldberg. Production supervised by Mike Nichols.