All the Help You Need
Also see Sharon's review of Disappearing Act
Some of the best one-person shows are the ones that start off outrageously funny, then subtly switch to poignant drama. Tim Ryan's autobiographical All the Help You Need tries to be one such show, but it gets off on the wrong foot.
The first problem with All the Help You Need is that it opens wrong. Ryan's tale, about the years he spent as a handyman when he couldn't get work acting, is supposed to begin in light, friendly comedy. Yet he opens the show with a flash-forward to a moment late in the monologue, when he arrives at a house to do repairs and finds himself on the wrong end of a nine-millimeter handgun. The audience has no idea what to make of this. Having expected a comedy about the quirky people in whose houses Ryan worked, the audience is thrown by the mention of a violent confrontation. And once Ryan has gotten our attention with a brief mention of the handgun, the audience is in no mood to laugh at the following parade of nutballs in whose houses Ryan worked prior to the incident. When you know the play is leading up to Ryan's survival of a life-or-death situation, the woman who paints everything in her house taupe is much less interesting.
When the play eventually gets back to the handgun, the plot is engaging, as anything concerned with the real death of real people would be. Ryan ends the play with a touching finale about the way he, personally, obtained closure regarding his own part in the incident. It is a lovely little scene, and there is no doubt that it was, and still is, extremely meaningful to Ryan. However, it doesn't play entirely comfortably. Lives were lost and there were undoubtedly people whose lives were turned upside-down because of it. That Ryan himself had some difficulty dealing with his own relatively minor role in the incident is understandable. But even after spending an hour with Ryan, the audience does not quite share his need to come to terms with it, and the ending of the play seems too centered on Ryan and not enough on the true victims.
Ryan's strength as a storyteller is in voices. When he transforms his voice into that of a little old Jewish man ("I vant you to build me a sukkah") or a coworker who sounds perpetually stoned, he gets laughs. A contractor from Hamburg is voiced with an accent that sounds suspiciously like that of the new governor of California, and there's just something inherently funny about listening to that heavily-vowelled sound wrap itself around multi-syllabic curse words.
When Ryan is simply playing himself as storyteller, he's less successful. He is clearly trying to come off as an amiable guy sharing the story of what he went through in order to support his family, but he's not entirely believable. He sounds more like a workman putting on a friendly persona so you'll welcome him into your home, rather than a genuine guy just telling you his life story. Maybe all those years of being a handyman rubbed off on him.
All the Help You Need plays at Blue Sphere Alliance at the Lex, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 8 p.m., through December 11, 2003. (No performance Thanksgiving Day.) $15. For reservations and information, call (323) 957-5782.
Blue Sphere Alliance - Anthony Barnao, Artistic Director - presents All the Help You Need. Written and performed by Tim Ryan; Directed by Christopher Fessenden. Produced for Blue Sphere Alliance by Victoria Hoffman.
Photo by Sally Cohn