Be A Man!!!
nytheatre.com review by Case Aiken
August 15, 2009
Autobiographical one-man shows are much maligned, for reasons that I don't entirely disagree with. At their worst, they are a pretentious excuse for one person to get on a soapbox and stutter and ramble in a poorly organized attempt to convince the audience to feel sorry for them. Thankfully, Be A Man!!!, Exiene Lofgren's entry into the 2009 FringeNYC Festival, is not that.
I was a little worried at first. In the program Lofgren mentions that he has a resemblance to Annie Lennox. Once the show started, this was referenced a bit more (actually he later has a larger anecdote about it), but the problem was that at first I had no idea who he was talking about. It was only when he referenced the song "Sweet Dreams are Made of This" that the face popped out of its spot in my backlog file of only partially watched '80s music videos, right next to "Safety Dance." This did not leave me confident that I'd be able to understand where his life had taken him, since a pop culture that I was only peripherally aware of seemed very intrinsic to his character. Well, maybe I wasn't the target audience? No. Lofgren comes right out and addresses everyone: Men and women, gay and straight, old and young. He raises the question of how challenging embracing masculinity can be in this age. There is no easy answer. At the opening, he pulls out a dictionary and shows that there are more than 30 definitions for the word "man" and none of them is satisfying. He reminds us that being one can be a privilege, a responsibility, and a curse all at once. Speaking as someone born with an x and a y chromosome, I certainly have struggled with such issues and imagine that so have many. To speak of the plight of identity may not be anything new, but it certainly is true, and thus will carry weight with a great deal of audience members—and maybe some might have to rethink some things once they walk out of the theatre.
Overall, I was entertained and intrigued by Be A Man!!!. Lofgren is very charming on stage, and while there are a few too many points where his stories find their ways into tangents, his comic roots shine through and kept me engaged even as I was trying to piece together the timeline in my head. Hopefully as the show runs, he'll streamline his train of thought a little, but the show is thoroughly watchable as it is. Lofgren knows what is funny, what is moving, and what points should be left unsaid. Most importantly, the anecdotes of his life aren't used to elicit sympathy but to make a point. There is a message and a question posed at once in the piece and I think a number of people would benefit from hearing it.