Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll
Conceived by Eric Bogosian
At the American Repertory. Theatre
Through October 8
WITH all the technological hoopla on Broadway and in Hollywood these days, there is something appealing about a person alone on stage with just a microphone telling stories.
Eric Bogosian, a monologuist, is at the American Repertory Theatre (ART) this weekend with a work in progress entitled Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll. Dressed in black, he relies on stories and characters instead of special effects or gimmicks to create his version of theater.
By definition, the show is fragmented. Unlike fellow monologuist Spalding Gray, Bogosian does not have just one central persona. Instead, he develops a series of different characters as well as one based on himself.
The first two segments are prayers, one a confession with Bogosian down on his knees in a spotlight as if he is kneeling in a confessional. The second is a kind of junkie's lament. In the latter, Bogosian deftly adopts a surreal street patter ending in a simple amen. Both are supplications to the audience. Bogosian is asking for forgiveness and understanding.
Though all the various characters are different, they all depend on their relationship to the audience. Bogosian never forgets he is being watched. As he attempts to satirize and portray his audience, Bogosian is desperately aware of the need for them to be there, to react and to approve.
Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll is part of the Satirical Subversive series at the ART which brought us such satirists as Mort Sahl and Paul Zaloom. Unfortunately, as a satirist, Bogosian is only fair. He relies too heavily on stereotypes, especially in a bit about a high-powered, slimy executive of a type that is already familiar from Mamet and movies like Wall Street. In another somewhat ineffective monologue, Bogosian creates a Spinal Tap-like over-the-hill rocker, and the jokes seem stale and repetitive.
The monologues get progressively better throughout the show, but they are almost all a bit too long. There are moments when Bogosian looks uncertain, when a gesture looks forced or when he seems as if he's about to break character completely. One hopes that Bogosian's stay at the ART will allow him to see when the various bits fall apart or fail to sustain themselves.
BOGOSIAN is a master at choosing a few physical quirks which quickly sketch a whole range of characteristics. His best moments explore the extent of male folly. His characters are often driven by lust, a drive that they often do not understand or which threatens to overwhelm them. A bombastic portrait of a Married to the Mob type who has just eaten a huge meal is particularly on target. As he advises his nephew Vincent to fall in love, he reminisces about his own youth, when he was a "human hard-on" and "a dick with clothes on." "You don't get married," he warns, "you never going to have a Christmas tree."
Another funny, sharp satire on male lust is a pick-up artist who claims that his success has to do with the fact that he is particularly well-endowed. At the end of this monologue, Bogosian calls to the house for more lights and begins to address the audience directly. In a protracted, very funny and rather graphic description of his sexual fantasies--in particular his desire for his wife's best friend--Bogosian displays all of the same neuroses found in his made-up lives. He does not exempt himself from his own attempts at satire.
It is interesting that Bogosian can be so compelling when he drops pretense somewhat and portrays himself. Here, Bogosian asks us directly for advice, for response, for approval. This need pervades the show and is particularly amusing and effective here.
The final invented character is also one that represents. Bogosian's acute anxiety about the audience. He is a fast-talking, neurotic misanthrope who struggles between the desire to be loved and the desire to be left alone. As he sits balled up in a chair clutching a microphone, Bogosian delivers a vituperative, slightly loony attack on human cruelty and indifference.
During this last monologue, Bogosian sneaks an occasional look at the audience. He seems almost surprised that there is someone there to listen. The venomous attack is simultaneous with the clear desire to gain approval.
This intense need for response explores human, and especially male, needs more than it allows Bogosian to satirize societal convention. For Bogosian, the lunacy and sadness of modern life come from the roles we are forced into playing. In depicting some of these roles, he captures a common desire to reach out, to be saved.
Many of the characters in Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll are failures at the American dream. They're marginalized, unhappy. By illustrating the humor and the sadness in their lives, Bogosian asks us to redeem them. And him.