4½ Stars: It Goes Without Saying
If you look at the building blocks of the new one-person show at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater titled It Goes Without Saying, you might naturally jump to the conclusion that the show is doomed to critical and commercial failure. Look what it has going against it. First, as we already noted, it's a one-person show. We know how much everyone loves those. Walking in the door we also know that Bill Bowers, no matter how talented he is, is not Billy Crystal. Star power is not going to carry him. Besides, even if Bowers turns out to be perfectly fine, good is not good enough when it comes to solo efforts; to hold an audience for the full length of an evening the performer simply has to be superb. So, already this does not bode well. Except Bowers is, in fact, a wonderfully charming presence on stage; he's funny, endearing, and winsomely honest.
Second, Bowers is a mime. OH MY GOD! Need we say more? Well, yes, we need to say much more. Happily, this is not a mime show. As it turns out Bowers understands how much (nearly) everyone hates mimes. To a certain extent, you will learn, he hates mimes, too! Nonetheless, don't run screaming for the door when the show starts. Bowers talks! See above.
Third, this is one of those "I was gay in a small town and I came to New York to find myself and become a star" shows. The very concept is a cliché in cabaret clubs all over town. It ain't so brand new in the theater, either. On the face of it, this is very tired material. Except Bowers enlivens and enriches his own script with artful layers of meaning that reveal themselves as his tale unfolds.
Fourth, this is also an AIDS story. After all the great AIDS plays that have come and gone, this should seem nothing if not, well ... late. But, again, he makes something more out of it both through his storytelling and, dare we say it? Through a gentle use of mime.
It Goes Without Saying is greater than the sum of its very misleading parts. It's a show with humor and heart and lots of smarts. Directed without frills by Martha Banta, the show is nothing if not personable, thanks to Bowers' relaxed and easy style. Finally, no matter how many wonderful one-person shows there are this season – and there will plenty of them – this is a production you owe it to yourself to see.
It Goes Without Saying runs through October 8 at Rattlestick Theatre. Ticket/performance information at SmartTix.com.
3½ Stars: Brutality of Fact
The Off-Broadway revival of Keith Reddin's Brutality of Fact closes on Sunday, but we thought we would mention it – even at this late date - because there is one very special performance in the piece. Playing the aged mother going senile, and giving a veritable master class in how to play understated misery – and get laughs! – is Joy Franz.
The play, itself, is a dark comedy about the modern dysfunctional family. It's a solid piece of work that has more than its share of laughs, even if the comedy is sometimes overbearing. This production by the Cardinal Group at Urban Stages offers a mostly competent cast that runs through their paces under Stephanie Yankwitt's forthright direction. In addition to the great work by Joy Franz, Bronwen Coleman distinguishes herself in two roles, plus D. H. Johnson does very well playing a well-meaning but self-destructive ex-husband.
The play deals with death, aging, loneliness, addiction, betrayal, and ultimately forgiveness. For all its darkness, it's actually a surprisingly optimistic work. Go figure. And go see Joy Franz.
Brutality of Fact runs through September 10 at Urban Stages. Ticket/performance information at TicketCentral.com.
Barbara and Scott