nytheatre.com review by Stan Richardson
November 19, 2008
I know, it sounds like your typical coming-of-age story: Jezebel, a failed activist—she shows up for protests on the wrong days—is starting to feel the need to pull her weight in the lesbianic household she shares with her supportive and lascivious lover, Joyce. In a flashback, she remembers the magic healing power passed down to her from her now-deceased mother, and this—combined with an ad seeking a home health aide for a man dying from a lethal blood disease—makes for a plan. She is hired, and while the elderly Mr. Williams does die (Oops, retroactive spoiler alert!), she gives him the best night of his life and she learns something about herself, too. As you might expect, there are some songs, some important public service announcements, and a guest appearance from Happy Fun Glove, who may actually not be a living creature, but possibly just a plastic glove filled with some unmentionable substance.
No, I was not describing Catcher in the Rye nor A Separate Peace. Not even Are You There God, It's Me, Margaret. In fact, this is the plot of Violet Krumbein's one person show, Human Painkiller, currently confounding and then delighting audiences who expect to go to the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater with the idea that they will be seeing some diverting sketch comedy.
To speak plainly, Violet Krumbein is a new theatrical genre. I hate to do those if-this-person-and-that-person-had-a-baby etc., but here goes: she has the child-like staring-contest-winning confidence of Andy Kaufman; the anti-polish and audacity of any John Waters regular circa Pink Flamingos; and yet beneath the insta-friendliness and endearing eccentricity, she has all the crowd-pleasing impulses of Sandra Bernhard on a very bad day. Thus she is a master of comedy—but comedy on her own terms.
For example, a heated exchange can be going down, but if Krumbein, in a quick-change from Jezebel to Joyce, has trouble donning the gruff dyke's bandana, well, she takes her unperturbed time to untangle it, and then returns to the scene when it's on her head properly. And she's also not terribly concerned with the normally-delicate alchemy of kitchen-sink drama and agitprop antics—if there's something the audience needs to know, such as her feelings on pharmaceutical companies or modern consumerism, she is not afraid to look around and make a loud, flat announcement. This is to say nothing of Krumbein's imagination. Indeed, the sexual life of Human Painkiller's protagonist—whose lovers include the surly Joyce, the aforementioned plastic glove, and the friendly pre-dead Mr. Williams (an African-American baby doll head, aged with wisps of cotton, and mounted on a puppet body comparable to a six-year-old with no skeleton)—has an unparalleled diversity.
Did I mention that I never stopped barking with laughter? I mean, I hope it's clear you should see this show. I just thought I should also make it clear that if you would like to see something you've seen before, Violet Krumbein will definitely disappoint you.