by Jake Lipman · August 20, 2015
Tim Manley | Jamie Harmon
Equal parts sweet and stirring, Tim Manley’s solo show Feelings: because why pretend the show is about anything else is a must-see performance in this year’s New York International Fringe Festival, running August 15-29.
Feelings chronicles Manley’s fumbles towards feeling comfortable in his own skin, spanning the years 2008-2011 looking for love in and around New York City. He talks candidly to the audience from a downstage corner for most of the piece, recalling many awkward encounters with both men and women.
The venue, 121 Ludlow, works well for the scope of the piece, which is tautly directed by Peter Aguero with tech assistance by Emily Bradshaw. A long, narrow shoebox of a space, with only a handful of lighting instruments mounted overhead, meant that both audience and performer were always directly within the other’s sights. Any gesture Manley made felt pronounced, and important. And while Manley’s story is rife with stress about how people perceive him and how he perceives himself, his tone is calm, and confessional.
Backlit by a giant projector screen, Manley’s cartoons further fill in the feelings behind his stories. Together, they dance a deliberately halting duet. The older-and-wiser Tim the narrator leads, while his cartoons provide opposing movements and flourishes. Especially evocative are his drawings of a night sky with clouds and stars, and his Brooklyn bedroom, filled with books and family portraits. We feel his yearning to be close and personal, and also his loneliness.
He sums up the people he meets in bold strokes, like his cartoons. There is a lot of love for the people he describes, from his first girlfriend to his single mom to his friend Vinnie, a “bro guardian angel” who owns every Axe body spray product. He is intrigued by people, wanting them to like him, even while he grapples with what to do with his yearnings.
As we soon learn, even the people who intimidate him—from the fashion blogger who invites him back to her place for Hot Pockets, to the beautifully dressed foreigner he meets at a gay dance club—are not his adversaries. Rather, Manley illustrates, in both his deft descriptions and drawings, how he gets in his own way time and again.
About halfway through, Manley changes tacks in his storytelling and describes an especially dark and contemplative period. This was a welcome pivot point in the conflict, and it felt as if he had stepped even closer to the audience to tell them the next chapter of his life.
There isn’t too much more to say about this piece because it is so effective and smart and funny, I want people to go see it and experience it on their own, but I will say that the solo show genre is a deceptively complex one. Tim Manley has made it seem simple, by keeping the tone conversational, and the intimacy of the venue focusing our eye on his story and his art. He gives the audience much to consider in his elegant, often poetic descriptions, punctuated time and again with laugh-out-loud conclusions.
As the title so wittily attests, Feelings is a solo show about occupying that internal turmoil called feelings, and surrendering to it makes for a very satisfying hour of theater.