1/22/2008

After Thoughts on a Storytelling Performance

Tonight was a "once" chance to see James Braly in his One Man Show - Life in a Marital Institution.
This Washington event was sponsored by Speakeasydc and it was advertised as a must see "fringe" type show - sophisticated and edgy. Braley opens his show Off Broadway in NYC in February. Nothing but rave reviews on the web for his show. It is storytelling from New York City.

So I extracted myself from my own work and drove downtown to the Arts Club to hear him.

Braly's performance was tight, very professional. His delivery is polished with a casual look. I admired his language - surprising metaphors, rich imagery - by the end of the piece you had a feeling for the characters - but on the drive home I realized I did not like them.

Why? I ask myself. Am I not "up" on the hip outlook of today? Don't I understand dysfunction? All his reviews say he's wonderful. Brilliant. Insightful. etc. etc. What's wrong with me?

Look, I get dysfunction from my cradle, so I felt at home with his family. What turned me off was that by the end of the performance he had ridiculed every possible quirk, peculiarity, and New Age belief of his wife and used them to make the humor of his monologue. OK. OK. She sounds like a controlling, insecure flake who would be very hard to live with but this began to feel too much like wife bashing. I was reminded of how F. Scott Fitzgerald fueled his muse with the material drawn from his wife Zelda.

About twenty minutes into the monologue I realized I wasn't laughing. I just don't appreciate depreciating women. Mine were not the only laughs that sounded thin and hollow after a time. Even if this woman is a fiction - it gets to be rough going - if you are a woman and your consciousness recognizes what's going on. Or, am I too sensitive?

Yes, Braly laughs at himself, his weakness in dealing with his wife, his connection with her, his need for her - but, his swipes at himself are kinder than the ridicule being dished out for the wife in the piece. One wonders, is he a fiction?

Some people say that this type of biographical storytelling is "today", that it is brave - they favor it. Done well, I agree with them.

I was disappointed.

Braley performed skillfully, His work is cleverly written, but it doesn't come off well to my ear.
If these are real people - where is the emotional honesty?

I guess I expect more from storytellers.

For now, back to folktales, where even when the characters are two dimensional the truths hold.

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