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.
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.
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