The Hefner Monologues
nytheatre.com review by Richard Hinojosa
February 26, 2009
What if your name was synonymous with sex and suave smoking jackets? John Hefner has spent his life trying to live up to a name that is not just a pop icon but more akin to a myth. So how does he deal with that? Well he does what he knows best—he tells stories.
Hefner's stories are mostly about the inelegant adventures of the distinctive life he desperately tries to create for himself. He want to make a name for himself that is all his own and in the end he realizes that perhaps he has. He begins by telling us the heart warming story of Tammy, the love of his life, and his attempts to win her love despite the ranging hard-on he gets while dancing with her. I enjoyed his story about the improvisational striptease he performs to Harry Nilsson's "Lime in the Coconut." His best story is about the one time he visited the Playboy mansion when he was seven years old. He briefly mentions one incident when he vomited while going down on his girl but, sadly, he doesn't expand on this story. And I really wanted to hear the rest of the story. One thing all his stories have in common is a tragically humiliating ending.
Hefner is an explosive performer and his stories are very well written. His style is like an amusement ride gone out of control. He chugs along slowly and sweetly, pulling us into his world, and then the ride drops off the end of a cliff and he screams and flails his arms. His writing is clean and very well structured. He always comes full circle after a well articulated setup. Still, there is something about his stories that feels common and, with the possible exception of the story about his visit to the Playboy mansion, they could happen to anyone. When it comes to storytelling I enjoy a story or at least a perspective with a certain degree of uniqueness, but perhaps Hefner is attempting to appeal to the common man by sticking to common themes.
Hefner is very endearing to watch. His awkwardness garners him buckets full of sympathy but he doesn't always commit to the moment. There are times when he plays the wild and fast-paced moments with too little confidence. Perhaps this is his way of showing us his geeky discomfort but it reads as superficial. Also, in these moments I caught him checking the audience for a reaction, as if he wasn't sure if we were still with him on this wild ride. Still, Hefner finds several moments when he does push through his character into a very vulnerable place. One thing is for sure, he is not afraid to expose himself.
The Hefner Monologues has a lot of potential to be something quite extraordinary. I love storytelling shows and Hefner's style, writing, and vulnerability make a good night of raw theatre.