Baldy; Life, Audited; All is Fair in Love and War and Max Kross is a Dirty Whore


by Amy Lee Pearsall · October 25, 2013


The 4th annual UNITED SOLO THEATRE FESTIVAL is at Theater Row on 42nd Street October 3 – November 24 with 121 productions. Indie Theater Artist Amy Lee Pearsall looks at three of them here If you enjoy solo-performance, be certain to check out the fourth annual United Solo Theatre Festival. Running at Theatre Row on 42nd Street through November 24th, this year’s United Solo features over 120 short theatrical productions from around the world, many of which will only run once. Take a chance, pick a day, and take in some of the rich and varied offerings this delightful festival has to offer.

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As the audience filters into the Studio Theatre on Theatre Row to witness perfomer Yokko’s one-woman show, Baldy, Yokko is already on stage in a black tank and rust-colored harem pants, warming up with vinyasa yoga to a Japanese techno-pop soundtrack. With her intense focus and repeated movements performed in the center of six chairs arranged in a semi-circle, each draped with a jacket, a blanket, a robe, a kimono, and so on, there is a deep sense of appreciation for ritual and discipline.

As an audience, we discover that this sense of craftsmanship in Yokko was forged at an early age, as she recounts growing up with a strict father in a traditional Japanese household. Not particularly keen on having a daughter, he raises her as he does her brothers, with modes of physical punishment that would sound the alarm in most modern American households. Still, he lets her go off to school, where she experiments with her newfound independence by binge drinking, attempting to change her physical appearance, and experimenting with theatre.

What Yokko doesn’t count on is losing her hair. As if that would not be enough for any young woman, she then begins to lose her skin. After considerable time spent in the hospital, raw and wrapped in bandages, she goes home to her family to heal in more ways than one.  It is on the hallowed ground of personal crisis that Yokko begins to recreate a relationship with her father, now as his adult daughter.

As directed by Kaitlyn Samuel, the hour-long story is primarily told through monologue and movement, though we do meet Yokko’s father and mother as characters. We are also introduced to the motley crew of Yokko’s “inside voices” which are as often at war with her internal sense of self-worth as they are with one another. In this heartfelt examination and meditation on cultural and familial expectation, self-doubt and personal identity, Yokko grounds herself in her story as much as she does in the present moment, and her commitment to both is admirable. With or without hair, Baldy is a thing of wonder.

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“Are there any tax examiners in the house?” Steve Mize asks in his one-man show, Life, Audited. The hour-long piece chronicling Mize’s own brush with the IRS as a performing artist garners many laughs. Mize has a well-honed stand-up comic delivery and comfortably forays into improvisation. Still, angered by what he sees as a battle between art versus bureaucracy, story tellers verses the cubicle, as Mize dives down into the receipts that must be itemized, it becomes clear that there’s more to the story than just what’s on the spreadsheet.

Mize’s Life teems with tales of theatrical training, of lifestyle choices made as an actor in Los Angeles, of a girlfriend rarely seen, and of months spent reliving his daily life, receipt by receipt, line by line. Once his existence has been chronicled for the examiner, he then must debate and defend his very existence as a performer. “Death and taxes: It will happen to you,” he tells us, and it is not an exaggeration to say that I felt the whole audience shudder.

Under the direction of Rafeal Clements, Mize is personable and open. (“I am spacious! I am 360 degrees!”) While he does hint briefly at other characters – specifically those encountered at the IRS – the focus is his monologue. There were a couple of places where it felt as if perhaps the story had jumped. I was uncertain if this was due to cuts made at the last minute, or if perhaps Mize had lost his place and simply skipped ahead. The damage was not considerable, but as an audience member, I was aware of it.

As daunting a task as an audit may be, in every cloud, there is a silver lining: In Mize’s being forced to confront his daily life and his habits, he is delivered to a moment of personal catharsis and reckoning. He also finds himself with material rich for a one-man show. Whatever the numbers are on the books, Mize wins in Life, Audited – and he even gets to live to tell about it.

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All is Fair in Love and War and Max Kross is a Dirty Whore brings musical comedy performer Max Kross to United Solo. On the downtown cabaret scene, Kross is renowned for his raunchy sets and boy toy persona. The premise of All is Fair is that Max Kross, clad in a black and white checkered tuxedo and seated at a piano, is a dating and sex therapist. Not content to merely offer advice – though he does do that – he also offers X-rated cabaret songs in an attempt to enlighten the audience and the volunteers culled from it for his “counseling.”

For whatever reason, Kross was almost impossible to hear from the fourth row in the tiny Studio Theatre on Theatre Row – understandable without a mic when playing the piano, but baffling when he was speaking to a quiet house. Kross seemed genuinely thrown by the make-up of the audience and its reserved nature (indeed, he commented on it twice). To be fair, an audience at 1am in the Village is quite different from that at 4pm on a Sunday in midtown. I was hoping that he would rise to the challenge by adjusting to the energy of the house with improvisation, but instead he pushed through with what he knew and cut the show by about 20 minutes.

I will say that, as an audience member, I found it difficult to relate to Max Kross’ persona. In his dealing with audience volunteers, his comedy is based in insults and sticks to the story line he has constructed for himself, rather than listening to and playing off of what people are sharing with him about their lives. I realize that having more material to pull out of the proverbial hat – sort of like a “Choose Your Own Adventure” scenario – might be more work in terms of building the piece, but relating to what others are bringing to the stage could be more engaging for the audience than just sitting through another S&M-tinged song. There is room for growth here, and I’d love to see what Kross does with it, should he seize the opportunity.

 

 

 

 

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