Joseph Keckler and Friends
nytheatre.com review by Richard Hinojosa
January 17, 2008
Telling your story is one thing, but presenting it is quite another. I always enjoy noting how a performer will put himself out there, so to speak, and the myriad of conventions that can be utilized to make a story come to life. Joseph Keckler and Friends presents itself as high art in a comfortably kitsch format.
The evening begins with a voice in the dark that offers cat names for all occasions (for a nominal fee). Then we're given a great short film titled Has Been in Michigan directed by Mike Enright. The screen is divided into four shots each with its own perspective on the same subject. The camera will find a corner of the speaker's mouth to focus on while the text meanders through a forest of mundane boredom and dry, slow-burning humor. I was really intrigued by this piece.
The night I saw the show we were given Dan Fishback as the Friend of Joseph Keckler. (Note: each night is different so if you want to see more of Fishback you'll have to look elsewhere.) Fishback's piece utilizes film and live action. The piece doesn't tell a single story as much as it delves into the life of its creator. He is a gay man trying to establish meaningful connections in his life, but there way too many factors in his world that stand in his way.
The whole piece is divided into about six different segments. My favorites include the bit in which a live character is talking to a character on film whose face we never see, we only see his point of view (which often wanders about the room); and the chat bit in which we see filmed computer sex chat text between two gay men where one character is trying to talk dirty while the other grows more and more paranoid about his body hair and the amount of HIV in pre-cum. The piece lands on a really cheesy dance bit and in the end Fishback admits that the whole thing is rather full of self pity and narcissism, but I thought most of it was really funny and there are some moments that are truly inspired.
Keckler closes the night (after a three cigarette intermission) with his piece titled "Cat Lady." It's about his cat-loving mother and bitter Aunt Carol. His mother is a little bit crazy but she lives a relatively normal life. She had been abused by a previous husband who was fond of throwing cats against the wall but she eventually broke free of him and later met Joseph's father. Aunt Carol is going through a divorce and is currently in the bitterness stage of accepting it.
It is a charming story and Keckler performs it with so much intimacy and sincerity. He creates distinct voices for each character and is really very animated and interesting to watch on stage. His director, Elizabeth Gimbel, does a great job staging his movements, so we never feel like he is stagnating in a single corner of the stage. Keckler's writing is often funny and it is filled with rich details of his characters' personalities and even what they're wearing, but it never really goes anywhere. The story has no discernable climax and doesn't land anywhere. So there's no button on the end of an otherwise entertaining show.
Still I had a good time at this performance. I like the venue, Dixon Place, where we get to sit in comfy couches instead of hard chairs. The kitsch is in the pudding in this unmistakably performance art storytelling show and you only have two more Thursdays to catch it.