Off Broadway Reviews
There are a couple of reasons I use the term "solo-ish" to describe the production. First and foremost, Deblinger is actually not alone onstage. His masterful storytelling has the good fortune of being accompanied by some mighty fine jazz and pop singing by Fred Johnson, who provides musical interludes and occasionally interacts with the star. On his own, Johnson puts on a wonderful show with soulful renditions of "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered," "God Bless The Child," and "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother," among others, at appropriate intervals where these numbers fit in thematically.
But even without Johnson's contributions, the performance would still qualify as "solo-ish," as Deblinger has a great talent for making his stories come alive by channeling all of the characters he talks about. In much the same way as comic actor Billy Crystal has done throughout his career, the raconteur fills the stage through vivid imitations of his parents, his grandmother, his brother and others who pop in and out on a moment's notice.
Many of the stories are very funny indeed, but there is decidedly a dark side to them. For instance, while he credits his gift for impersonation to his father, who "did so many characters, always with the characters," he can't help but add: "I remember one where he played a German child molester. And I was the child. It was called The Insane Asylum.'" He talks, too, about the bitter fights between his parents, and of the time he went after his father with a butcher knife, of the woman he shot with a pellet gun, and how he got kicked out of a show in which he was performing because he was stoned on pot.
Hmm. So, maybe not exactly like Billy Crystal. Yet, somehow, Deblinger manages to find the humanity within these stories. And when he starts talking about the time he spent with his father towards the end of his life, the angry edge begins to fade and a new understanding begins to seep in, leading to a catharsis of love perfectly timed with the birth of his own son.
Even though the entire evening, smartly directed by Ben Snyder, is composed of a series of self-contained stories, it all comes across as a fully developed coming-of-age tale, complete with musical score, that finds a surprisingly upbeat pathway through the thorns and thickets of life.