nytheatre.com review by David Johnston
March 3, 2008
Jonathan Pereira doesn't look like he should be doing a one-man show in the Frigid festival at the Kraine. With his crisp shirt, tie, and gleaming white smile, Pereira looks either like the world's best temp or a well-scrubbed Mormon missionary in his autobiographical show, American Cake. In this hour-long show, Pereira tells a rambling tale of his difficulty in committing to his girlfriend/wife, his love of cake, and his feelings of unease over the direction of the United States of America.
Pereira scarcely mentions President Bush, the Iraq War, or any specifics about the source of his discomfort. Indeed, it's unclear what his political views are, other than that he continuously repeats that he loves his country and recently it's been creeping him out in a way he doesn't articulate. But as a theatrical journey, ambivalence isn't riveting. What exactly is unnerving him about this country now? I know what creeps me out, but I wanted to hear it from him.
Pereira is an appealing, witty performer. There is one great messy bit of business with the onstage cake, and another delightful riff on the history of the Presidency, with each President getting summed up in a phrase or two. Yet for the first three quarters of the show, he adopts a ramped-up sarcastic persona, complete with funny sounds. He even refers to it in an off-handed comment on his generations' difficulty in differentiating "between sarcasm and sincerity." Also unexplored is the performer's Christianity, which is dealt with in an off-hand manner, almost as if he were too embarrassed to discuss it much in the hip East Village. There is a brief discussion of an ongoing battle with a roommate over a poster of Jesus, but this is left after awhile without further elucidation. Like politics, Pereira touches on it, but doesn't dig.
And yet, in the last quarter of the show, when he drops the persona and talks plainly and simply about his awe and fears regarding the upcoming birth of a child, he is thoroughly engaging—connected to his own material, to his life and to his audience. He also becomes in those moments, genuinely funny.
A great deal of American Cake is unsatisfying. No, I'm not going to say it's half-baked. That would be altogether too snarky a comment for such a nice young man, who's capable of real tenderness in unexpected places.