by Sergei Burbank · November 4, 2013
The Junket, a one-man piece by Mike Albo currently playing at Dixon Place on scattered nights until November 16th, is a densely packed rumination on professional ethics, love, self-delusion, and the ambiguity of artistic integrity. It is unambiguously hilarious.
With frequent diversions and ornate language, the core (true) event of The Junket is this: Albo, a freelance writer with a regular column for a major newspaper, is invited on a promotional junket to an exotic locale. While aware that accepting the trip is not the best professional choice, accept he does -- and it requires the rest of the performance to examine why ambition and self-destruction are frequent bedmates. The events on the trip, personal developments at home, and simple bad luck all converge to make his homecoming tumultuous -- and disastrous -- indeed.
Albeit with good humor and a light touch (more an askance gaze than the interrogator’s spotlight), Albo examines how life in New York City, life amongst the creative classes, indeed Capitalism itself, is undergirded by a healthy dose of hypocrisy. Why is it unethical for freelance writers without health insurance to accept gifts, while upper-level executives have company-expensed lunches with government “sources,” conversations which sometimes lead to war?
(Full disclosure: while I do not know Mike Albo nor anyone associated with the production, I did discover in the course of the evening that I had inadvertently been a fan of his work for many years -- I simply did not know the work was his. I did not come into the evening planning to love the piece; I simply did.)
Albo candidly admits his simultaneous revulsion by and attraction to consumer capitalism: his professional life is completely dependent on it, and while he maintains a visceral dislike of the unfairness of financial inequality, he fully owns his enjoyment of the finer things in life -- finer things that he can rarely afford, even as he must cover them in his writing.
The fundamental inequality that embodies life in Michael Bloomberg’s New York City is a sticking point for Albo, who notes with not a little disapproval the overall luxe transformation of this place. Albo’s simultaneous disgust by and fascination with society’s “illusion of abundance” (just one of Albo’s many lyric twists of language that make the show such a delight) provides a successful niche as he writes both intimately and at arm’s length about the well-dressed world of billionaires -- a world that has dominated New York City’s consciousness for the past recession-spotted decade.
(Full disclosure: I share Albo’s tribal demarcation of insider/outsider when it comes to this City; a pointless, powerless, useless -- and yet completely satisfying -- smugness that comes from knowing what things were like before.)
The events of the Albo’s piece are deceptively simple: he received an invitation, got on a plane, and came back to New York in a matter of days. The figures we meet along the way -- editors, minor celebrities, entrepreneurs, European ex-pats, and what passes for muckraking journalists in our scandal-weary and scandal-hungry age, pass by in a dizzying but satisfying blur, demarcated by his halting comedic timing and brutally efficient gift of description.
One senses that for Albo, his brief infamy and public fall from grace are still painful memories -- despite his willingness to mine them for comic material. As an outsider to the world he chronicled, his account is not so much paradise lost as paradise briefly observed, but rather than plunging into bitterness he invites us to share in the pain as a source of more than a few laughs. As a final cathartic wink, as it exits the audience is offered “swag bags,” thereby made fully complicit in his caper. (Full disclosure: I took one.)