Friday, March 23, 2012


There's something new and different here today: I'm doing a review post, really my first. And, shockingly, it's NOT for The Hunger Games, which it seems everyone else is writing about today. It's about theater. I am never one to go along with the gang.

Last Thursday my friend Holly, along with her MamaDrama partner, Erin, brought some magic into my life in the form of an invitation to The Public Theater to see their latest offering, playing in their cabaret, Joe's Pub - the one man (plus band of 3) show: NO PLACE TO GO.

To call it brilliant and entertaining would be just to repeat the wonderful reviews it's been garnering in the press, including both a feature article and glowing review in the New York Times. Ethan Lipton, the playwright-singer-actor whose creation this show is (along with his collaborator, director Leigh Silverman) roundly deserves every accolade that is currently being heaped upon him.

If you live on a desert island, or anyplace other than NYC (= basically the same thing, right?) and haven't heard anything about this play, it's a semi-autobiographical work.

Based on Ethan Lipton's own experience, the show is about facing unemployment when the company he has worked at for ten years (on a part-time, perma-lancer basis) is relocating. We get to be inside Ethan's head as he revisits his history and feelings about this company and work in general, and as he contemplates his options and choices, and those of his co-workers, as the relocation proceeds.

And because Ethan is a musician, as well as a writer and actor, the story is told in a mix of prose and song. So while it's a play with music, it's not a musical in the traditional sense of the word.

For me the show struck home in so many ways, most especially as a blogger, because this play has so much in common with the best of blog writing: confessional, seeming raw truth, but in reality so carefully shaped, refined; and written by someone clearly in love with language.

It does what good blogs do: takes reality and makes it more real; in this case, making the truth even truthier by adding a bit of fiction - because in this story, the company is relocating not just to another part of the country, but to Mars.

This absurdist twist somehow makes Ethan's story more compelling. While keeping all the details, the ironies and petty indignities of his situation no less specific, real and relatable, it simultaneously elevates it to a plane of universality.

Thus it is no longer the story of his one man's job loss, but rather a tale invoking the tectonic shift of displacement we are all experiencing as the economic freefall in our current time requires us all to reconsider our lives and careers, to contemplate moves we might not have otherwise, ones that seem like, well, moving to Mars.

I would love to give you many more specific details from this show, share some of the many gems found therein, but I really can't.

I knew I was writing a review, knew I was supposed to be furiously scribbling notes during the show in order to jog my memory and write this review. But I just couldn't. I was transfixed, in the moment. I didn't want to take my eyes off his face, didn't want to remove myself from the experience, to take that step back you need to, to write notes for a measured review. I just wanted to go along with him on the ride. To be transported.

So I jotted down just three measly phrases - 8 words, of the many astonishingly fresh, biting, funny, brilliant things Ethan said:
Gooey malaise - a turn of phrase he used to describe reactive depression, that struck me as perfect.
Shitstorm coming - the refrain from a darkly funny song.
Words first, then meaning - what could easily be the mantra of all those of us who are in love with language.

These will have to do.

An old theater professor of mine, Richard Trousdell, one whose wisdom well I find myself going back to again and again, used to talk about how we go to the theater to recognize ourselves, to see ourselves in others' stories and be transformed by the experience somehow. Or at least that's what happens when theater works, when it gets it right and the magic happens. (This aspect of theater that is sometimes called catharsis, but to him was even more than that, deeper.)

And this play? Yes. It gets it right. Very, very right. This is what storytelling does, when it does it best.

And while this is possible, can and does occur in the best of movies, it is fundamentally different in theater because there is the added factor of actual presence, of live human beings in front of you, not distanced by the intermediary of cameras, screens, editing; not displaced in time and space. Someone may record this, turn this into a film, and it may well be brilliant. But it will never be the same as being in that room with Ethan Lipton, the man, feeling his emotions as they pour off of him, in the presence of his presence.

And Ethan's presence is powerful, is tremendous, precisely because he is merely life-size, not larger than life. He is an appealing everyman while remaining very, very specifically himself.

And what he is, mostly, is a wonderful storyteller.

So if you live in or near New York City, run, don't walk to see this show. Magic like this doesn't come along very often, and it's only up for a limited run.

And, for my readers, a little discount to the show:

Use code NOPLACE for $25 tickets!
By Phone: 212-967-7555   ONLINE: click here
 IN PERSON: The Public Theater Box Office, 425 Lafayette St.

And if you can't come see it, here's a little glimpse at one song from the show, 3-Tier Plan, not live but a lovely little animation, nonetheless:

Thank you, Holly and Erin of MamaDrama for this wonderful opportunity.
Disclosure: I was provided complimentary tickets by MamaDrama, but all opinions are my own.

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