nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
January 14, 2006
Spalding Gray is Josh Lefkowitz's Last Great Hero.
Now, the reason I capitalized "Last Great Hero" is because Lefkowitz has a very particular definition of this term, one whose derivation is described in a very funny anecdote in his terrific one-man show Help Wanted; one whose specificity ties Lefkowitz to Gray, the late great monologist whose work and legacy has, in part, inspired this singular, smart tribute-cum-confessional. Indeed, the three items on stage at Dixon Place when the audience arrives for Help Wanted—a chair, a table, and a bottle of Poland Springs water—provide an immediate visual cue to what Lefkowitz is up to in this show. That he succeeds so admirably in this, his performance and playwriting debut, indicates how intelligent and talented and loaded with chutzpah this 24-year-old actor/writer is.
I should pause now to make sure you know that Help Wanted is, above all, terrifically funny, brimming with humor and authentic wit; and that it's performed with warmth and delightful and sometimes insouciant brio by young Mr. Lefkowitz. He's an appealing performer and he never wears out his welcome. His writing is colorful and vivid: I saw, in my mind's eye, just about every detail of every story that he engagingly recounted in the course of this 90-minute play.
I should add, too, that the full title of this piece is Help Wanted: A Personal Search for Meaningful Employment at the Start of the 21st Century. In it, we can detect echoes of Lefkowitz's hero—unabashed ego; a collision of the personal and the Zeitgeist. Lefkowitz's subject is his journey from naive college student to slightly-less-naive struggling young actor. The story should be a cliche: he gets his BFA degree from the University of Michigan; is unable to find a suitable job and becomes a parking lot attendant; suddenly gets a "big break" in the shape of an acting job in Washington, D.C.; learns the hard way that "big breaks" don't grow on trees; becomes a waiter. Along the way, he does a great deal of thinking and observing. He fancies himself a writer (he tells one story about lying about being an actor, pretending instead to be a poet, apparently thinking that this would make him seem more stable), and he eventually realizes that this very play was inside him, waiting to be put on paper and then on stage.
He also gets to meet his Last Great Hero, the pilgrimage to New York City from DC forming the moving and melancholy climax of Help Wanted.
Lefkowitz's stories depict a coming-of-age/awakening in brave and unfettered detail: his musings on his latent racism and his momentarily confused sexuality, for example, are at once hilarious and blistering for their honesty. He can evoke a moment of real tenderness, such as his father's farewell to him as he boards the plane for his new "career" in D.C., and in passing he can nearly floor us with a subtle reference, as when he tells us about his 20th birthday, September 11, 2001.
His digressions are perhaps less convoluted than Gray's, while his acting style is more naturalistically overt, reminiscent of another hero (though not a Great Hero—his definition is very clear on this point), Eric Bogosian, bringing the numerous other characters in his tales to very vivid life with distinctive voices and mannerisms; spare and effective. Already, Lefkowitz is on his way to a style of his own, as writer and performer, and if the solo show seems as natural a fit for him as for his idols, he's got room and years ahead of him to grow. His personal searches for meaningful employment are just beginning. I look forward to seeing the results.