nytheatre.com review by Tim Cusack
Less a play than a concert/spoken-word event, Kowtow Rapsody
uncertainly exists in some fluid Nowheresville of the postmodern
that has, in this pop-cultural moment, become Everytown U.S.A.—a
white performer (Scott Lawrence Kirschenbaum) appropriates black
hip-hop, barking rhymes on the mic about his relationships with
women while aggressively flirting with the sole male audience
member (yours truly), clad only in a black see-through negligee
and boxer briefs and flowing with fifty-cent SAT words that 50
Cent would never sissify himself by throwing down. The yellow
caution tape separating audience from performer suggests that
the site of this performance is more nuclear meltdown than
melting pot, and Kirschenbaum gives off a poisonous heat that
threatens to blister anyone in close proximity.
August 15, 2003
However, he’s also capable of a sweet vulnerability that emerges when he slips through the barrier separating him from his audience and joins us in the seats. We’re not quite sure what he’s up to as he hands his cordless microphone to an audience member and invites that person to read from the tiny bound cue cards he carries. I know this part was about love and loss and death (he talks about sitting on a bench while visiting the grave of a friend who has died), but honestly it’s a bit fuzzy because I was the audience member suddenly participating in the show. What I do know is that something inexpressibly powerful happened—something sexy, unsettling, tender.
There were several moments that reached this level of theatrical brilliance—most notably when Kirschenbaum assumed the identity of the ugliest Miss America ever, uttering such memorably funny lines as "They wanted me to be Monroe/I wanted to be Dickinson," and "They want to know how to save the world/They can start by throwing out my makeup"—but unfortunately a compelling narrative thread is missing from the show and dramatic conflict is nonexistent, unless you count the knock-down/drag-out between him and his viewers. At several points I found myself tuning out Kirschenbaum’s rants, largely because I didn’t understand the source of the rage being directed at me. This undeniably powerful performer demands that we take on the dual role of emotional pugilist and dispenser of healing balm in a private drama that resolutely stays on his side of the great interpersonal divide.
Kowtow Rapsody is co-written by James Vincent Duruz, who performs musical accompaniment during the show.