by Charles C Bales · August 17, 2015
Alex Mahgoub | Corynn Egreczky
The son of a hard-working, entrepreneurial Egyptian immigrant father, Alex Mahgoub relays his own rags-to-riches-to-rags-to- … well, as a successful real estate agent for New York City’s elite, let’s just say the performer/writer of this deeply personal solo show is certainly not in the rags category any longer.
Baba (an Arabic term of endearment for “father”), now playing as part of FringeNYC 2015, is a soul-baring account of Mahgoub’s life from childhood to the present. But his story has an unexpected twist that most do not. When he was 10 years old, his father was murdered while trying to prevent a robbery in his home in Trenton, New Jersey.
Mahgoub is a natural performer, comfortable in the spotlight, craving the audience’s attention. Even his Corcoran Group real estate profile hints at the playfulness of his character, listing “12 Years in Acting, 8 Years in Real Estate” under Experience. That playfulness and training as an actor serve him well as he recounts his own transformation from father-worshipping child shaken by tragedy and mercilessly teased “fat nerd” into hunky teenage football player and unrestrained college student, with a carefully hidden sensitive side and burgeoning — yet unexplored — sexuality.
Although ostensibly about his relationship with his father, the most compelling moments of Baba offer a look into the mind of the aforementioned “fat nerd,” as Mahgoub sees himself as something more and ultimately turns himself into the man he is today.
Helping fuel the intimacy of this onstage memoir is its staging in the living room-esque Spectrum on Ludlow Street on the Lower East Side. As Mahgoub darts into and out of characters from his life as disparate as his confident father, sassy junior high crush, coarse high school football coach, and flirtatious first boyfriend, audience members feel as if he is telling his story directly to them — which, when he improvises depending on the crowd, he occasionally does.
As a self-assured member of Gen Y, Mahgoub should be especially commended for his uninhibited attitude to his own professed bisexuality, neither cowering in shame over it nor exploiting it for titillation. That said, more information on his sexual coming-of-age might be helpful in filling out his life story — and seminal experiences — with more clarity.
Baba doesn’t break new ground in the solo performance/tell-all genre. But Mahgoub makes it a compelling hour spent listening to a heartfelt as well as occasionally funny story that touches both on the universal and the unique.