Like a Dog on Linoleum
Also see Sharon's review of Scapino!
There comes a time when the thought of sitting through another one-person show seems absolutely unbearable. "Oh Lord," you think, "not another hour-and-a-half watching someone else work through their childhood demons by means of an autobiographical stage show." Since when did theatre become therapy for any two-bit actor with enough money to rent out one of L.A.'s innumerable black box theatres?
And then along comes Leslie Jordan's Like a Dog on Linoleum, which is so good you don't even want to call it a one-person show. Because Jordan understands the simple truth that, even if an autobiographical show is deeply personal and cathartic for the actor, it is still theatre and its main purpose must be to entertain the audience. Like a Dog on Linoleum isn't so much a one-person show but a comedy that happens to be told in the first person.
There are more belly laughs in Like a Dog on Linoleum than any other show in recent memory. And they don't come so much from the show's story but from the way in which it is told. Jordan's tale of growing up gay in the South, alcohol abuse, drug use, jail time, and falling for the wrong men doesn't read like light comedy. But it is Jordan's irrepressible sense of laughter and joy that dominates both his life and his recounting of it. Jordan finds humor in everything - from when his elementary school sent him home with a note diagnosing his "sibilant S" to the difficulties of responding to nature's call when sharing a jail cell with other people. And when Jordan hits a point in a story where he just can't make it funny, he waves it off, saying the story is too depressing.
Jordan has many skills which make for a natural comedian: a brilliant sense of timing, an ability to mimic, a great turn of phrase, an innate charm, an unending supply of energy, and a wonderful eye for detail. Roll them together and the result is a performer who can, through description and gesture, paint a perfect picture of any of a number of characters who flitted through his life. And Jordan never stops, whether he's portraying a batty Southern woman who has rejected society's norms when it comes to apparel or showing us his childhood self go-go dancing in the living room, Jordan is dead on and dead funny.
If there is a flaw to Like a Dog on Linoleum, it is that, near the end, it flirts dangerously with becoming one of those dreaded one-person shows that's an exercise in self help. Jordan ends his show with some ruminations on faith and one's purpose in life. The message itself is a good one and resonates well after the laughter has died. However, the delivery gets a little New Age in tone, as Jordan talks about the culmination of his journey and seems to present his show to the audience as a tool for his own emotional wellbeing. While Jordan's good intentions cannot be doubted, the attempt to elevate the show above ninety-minutes-of-laughs-with-a-message borders on the pretentious, and seems out of place in what is otherwise one solid act of delightful entertainment.
Like a Dog on Linoleum continues at the Elephant Asylum Theatre in Hollywood through December 5, 2004. For tickets, see http://www.brotherboy.com.
Joe Spotts presents Leslie Jordan's Like a Dog on Linoleum - A One Man Tour de Force. Written by Leslie Jordan. Produced by Joe Spotts; Associate Producer Michael Layton; Publicity Michael Sterling & Associates; Lighting Design Leigh Allen; Stage Manager Stacey Wilson; Directed by David Galligan.