Your Face is a Mess
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
February 17, 2007
TED [a musician]: I don't get it. Why would you want to stop? Business too slow? The recession and stuff?
MOSES [his drug dealer]: Business is healthy. It's always healthy. It's always been healthy. It'll always be healthy. It's drugs. That's maybe why it's never really occurred to me to do anything else. But… I don't know. I'd like to teach.
TED: Teach drug dealing?
MOSES: No, I thought maybe… math. I'm good at counting. Weights. Measures. Making change. I wanna give something back, you know?
Your Face is a Mess (title from a David Bowie lyric) is the new play by Marc Spitz. It's about a drug dealer who decides to retire; he has a bit of an epiphany after he hears a news report about smugglers sewing liquid heroin into the stomachs of puppies and decides it's time to get his act together. Now this could be just a one-joke comedy in lesser hands, but Spitz—who knows the slacker mentality inside and out; cf. earlier works like worry, baby..., I Want to Be Adored, Shyness Is Nice, etc.—genuinely cares about Moses the Drug Dealer, fleshes him out for us, makes him real. He puts Moses on a journey toward, of all things, authentic adulthood. It's the quirkiest, most off-the-wall, and one of the most profane coming-of-age tales ever.
We get to know Moses as he makes his final visits to longtime customers, such as the musician quoted above. One of his clients is Bette, an actress on a soap opera; she's particularly distressed that Moses is quitting because she's being written off her show. Another client is Denny, the TV producer who's killing Bette's character; he's just found out that he's got prostate cancer, and to put it mildly he's not reacting well to the news.
All three take parallel journeys in Your Face is a Mess; they listen and learn from other people and begin to grasp the notion that there's a world outside their little self-involved universes. Their stories intersect in various ways, almost all of them hilarious. And they get over themselves.
The play is comprised of brief vignettes, some of them no more than a minute long; they would play like blackout skits if they didn't build so effectively into authentic portraits of these characters. We see Bette bullying her personal assistant because he's brought his infant baby to work (the P.A. points out that it's 10pm); we see Denny belittling his obnoxious therapist, Dr. Pudding; we see Moses trying to be cool while he gets a physical at a clinic, hoping he doesn't have some terrible disease like AIDS.
Moses and Bette connect in the middle of the story, and a very unorthodox sort-of romance follows.
Carlo Vogel's production is brisk and spare and full of surprises. Tom Vaught nails overbearing, overwrought Denny, and Bradford Scobie is dazzlingly versatile as eight different characters, including an old lady and a dog. Camille Habacker is splendid as Bette, in a thoughtful, economical, and entirely unsentimental performance. Ivan Martin anchors the show as Moses, capturing his guilelessness, his dimness, and above all his earnestness. Martin and Habacker are both pretty fearless in exposing the many flaws in their characters while keeping them grounded, real, and somehow admirable.
Clocking it at just over an hour, Your Face is a Mess is swift and entirely satisfying. It's a starkly funny-scary-melancholy-sweet play, tinged with the utterly unexpected promise of, well, promise. It's an exciting departure for Spitz, and I can't wait to see where it leads him on his own journey as a writer.