Joe: The Perfect Man
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
February 25, 2011
The press kit for Crowning Monkey's production of Joe: The Perfect Man contains a formidable stack of rave reviews, accumulated over the past five years at numerous fringe festivals and venues of similar ilk all over Canada. So my dissenting voice should be taken, perhaps, with a grain of salt.
But dissent I will, for I found Joe: The Perfect Man to be an utterly unlikable and distasteful show. I mean no disrespect to Rachelle Elie, Joe's hard-working creator/performer, or to Adam Lazarus (billed as "director and collaborator"). The idea behind the show is enticing enough: Joe, an idiot and a loser par excellence, has come to a theatre to audition for the lead role in Macbeth. Now, I think there's real comic potential in having any number of clown archetypes, from Charlie Chaplin to Bill Irwin to Red Bastard, take on the Bard; particularly a play that climaxes with a speech that says
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Joe, alas, has no consistent persona. He's half picaresque sad sack (his back story is that he just got fired from his teaching job after a sort-of on-the-job nervous breakdown led to him cussing out his students), half commedia-like vulgar grotesque (he's dressed in loud mismatched plaids and no coarse cheap laugh seems to be beneath him), and half obnoxious/aggressive audience abuser (he made two latecomers do push-ups on stage, relentlessly calls the crowd "fuckers," and brings two audience members on stage to do a variety of humiliating tasks as the show's finale). Yes, I know that's three halves: that's the problem with Joe—he's got too many personality traits, and I never believed in him, not for a second.
Nor did I believe in Elie as a man; I wondered why she even wanted her clown character to be a man, given that her high voice (she has a lovely soprano when she sings) and her svelte physique really belie any sort of masculinity that she tries to convey. I also never believed in the show's framing device of an audition. Joe bosses the (unseen) casting director around, has apparently brought in a fleet of sound cues along with bags of props that he brings on stage with him, and, as already mentioned, calls audience members (supposedly fellow auditioners) onto the stage. This does not resemble any audition I've ever heard of. Why doesn't Elie have Joe present his own cockeyed one-man version of Macbeth and be done with it?
If you don't want to risk being picked on or being shamed into hopping up and down like a bunny in front of a roomful of strangers, then my advice is stay away from Joe: The Perfect Man. (If you don't want to see that sort of thing happen, this may not be for you either.) I know I found it trying to sit through. But, as I said, Joe has had a good track record, winning an award at the Ottawa Fringe back in 2008. Maybe it's a matter of taste; maybe it's just too Canadian or something, I don't know. In any event, that's my two cents.