The Bitter Poet: Looking For Love In All The Wrong Black Box Performance Spaces
nytheatre.com review by J Jordan
February 26, 2011
When The Bitter Poet first takes the stage during Looking for Love in All the Wrong Black Box Performance Spaces, he advises us we will not, in fact, be seeing a show. He motions to his lighting person and asks the guy to get it out of his system, as there would be no such lighting design during the following 60 minutes; what we are promised is an hour of bitter poetry. The reality, however, is that Kevin Draine, AKA “The Bitter Poet,” very much intends to give us a show. From his Tom Cruise-inspired chair-hopping guitar riffing to his perhaps unwittingly ironic commentary on the surrounding black box theatre in which his set is performed, Draine is in every way putting on for us a show. Otherwise, why would we be watching? Indeed, the very name of the piece speaks to the fact that the show is a performance—and quite a performance it is.
Draine promises us there will be no story, no beginning-middle-end, no moral, or anything like that. In this he is sincere. What he does provide is a collection of poems, some of which waver on song due to their very nice accompanying guitar chord arrangements. They are for the most part witty and well-written and there is something in each of them that will remind you of a woman you know, perhaps someone you lost, too. Each song is a good story in its own right, except for the common denominator between them: the punch line. The Bitter Poet never gets the girl. Ever.
And yet, interestingly enough, for all the strong guitar chords, occasional shouting, and the roll call through the women’s names, The Bitter Poet doesn’t actually seem that bitter. The women he mentions must be real people, and he reminisces about each one almost sentimentally (and certainly nostalgically). His observations of and feelings for these women are true, which is wonderful. After a few poems, however, we realize the end of each story will be the same and our pal, in his red, black and gold regalia, for all his guitar chords and biting observations, will end up alone.
Why? We don’t know. The Bitter Poet never explains this. But, also, that’s not important. What is important is that he’s looking for love, still willing to put himself out there, heart on sleeve and guitar on, er, stomach, as though he doesn’t know each time it’s going to end up the same way. So, then, what is the point? Perhaps only Sisyphus and The Bitter Poet know. As promised, nothing about his intentions or feelings change by the end of the hour, which is a shame. We want him to get the girl, or figure out by the end what is keeping him from getting her, but we never learn anything about our Poet. We are left with some great poetry, in particular the song about the woman who both literally and figuratively filled Draine’s life, his clothes, and his food and probably his various orifices with glitter. I can actually say I loved that song, and I wish I knew its title and where I could download it from iTunes and listen to it nonstop the next time I break up with somebody.
And, while he claims otherwise, there are some actual lighting moments, and, to the chagrin perhaps of the critic he called out during the performance I saw, Draine is wearing some sort of costume. Gold jacket, red tuxedo shirt, black leather pants, velveteen boots, and a guitar. According to Draine, the critic didn’t care for the fact that Draine didn’t explain why he was wearing such a getup, but, from the confines and context of a tiny black box theatre on the East Side and surrounded by coils of guitar cords threatening to trip him up more often than his heart, who the heck cares why he’s dressed like a wedding singer who moonlights as a flamenco dancer? Or, maybe that’s why he doesn’t get the girl.
Of more concern is the lack of blocking and direction. Not that Draine really needs any, but we were so worried that he would trip over that needlessly long guitar cord that it was distracting. Somewhere, drifting amidst all those poems—some of which, by the way, are as hilarious as they are scathingly true—is Draine’s desire to meet a nice girl and settle down somewhere, possibly New Jersey. Why that is so unbelievably difficult, especially in this city, is a mystery that he can’t help but continue to try to solve. And that may be the most valuable take-away from all this yammering on about girls loved and lost: Draine seems like a nice guy. At the end of the piece, where he just abruptly leaves (no bow, no curtain call, nothing theatrical of course), you still feel like he’s a nice guy…even if he is wearing that jacket.