I haven't seen Eric Bogosian himself perform, and I haven't read his work, so I really don't know if his writing is as drop-dead funny as actor Alex Ray June's performance makes it appear, or if June is as brilliant an actor as he seems to be when doing Bogosian's material. All I know is that Bogosian and June together are irresistible. Essential America: A Comic One Man Show, performed at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art, consists of eleven short skits; it had the audience positively howling with laughter on opening night.
The play certainly says something about the condition of our country -- or at least about some of the strange characters who populate it -- but it wasn't written as a unified piece. It consists of monologues from several of Bogosian's previous award- winning one-man shows, beginning with a quasi-nostalgic look back at the '50s (when "everybody was working, straight and happy") and concluding with a passionate sermon on the finding and care of our inner babies.
June plays a succession of outrageous but recognizable American males. There's the bum rooting through garbage who, finding a feces-smeared banana, is moved to create a fast-flying monologue on the irresistible flood of shit and decay engulfing our world. There's a blown-away dopester, bullying, cajoling and threatening an unseen buyer. Between shouted demands for his woman, Rainbow, to bring him beer and syringes, he indulges in a charged, rocketing description of hopped-up sex, and he manages to fry his own brains before making the sale. The representative of a homeowners' association explains the organization's fascistic rules to a family thinking of moving in; a millionaire barbecues steaks while considering the efficacy of napalming the poor; a sad little gay guy apologizes for his penis: "I feel like a human being trapped in a man's body." Pretty soon, a smooth-talking stud is extolling his own huge member. Finally -- and it's one of the most savagely and incisively funny of the evening's skits -- the Reverend Bob exhorts us to heed our inner babies and live lives of absolute selfishness.
Essential America: A Comic One Man Show
Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art, 1750 13th Street, Boulder
Through November 16
303-443-2122, www. bmoca.org
Obviously, Bogosian is angry. Obviously, he thinks there's a lot wrong with America and that many of us are self-absorbed bullies. But despite the fact that this anger informs all of the segments, they don't quite fit together. I was still waiting for some kind of payoff at the end. But this remains an exhilarating evening of theater, and June's performance -- subtle, rage-filled, smooth, roaring, wistful, always fully committed -- is more than worth seeing. I'm definitely recommending Essential America to friends.
I must say, I'd like to see Bogosian's take on post-September 11 America, shaped and defined by George W. Bush and his cronies. But perhaps it's impossible to parody an administration that so resolutely insists on parodying itself.
Get the Arts & Culture Newsletter
Find out about upcoming performances, exhibitions, openings and special events happening in the Denver art and theater scene.