Never having done one, I can only imagine the challenges and pressures inherent in performing a one-person play that lasts over an hour, and I'm betting those challenges and pressures exponentially increase when you're also the play's author and co-director. I therefore doff my cap to Adam Michael Lewis, whose solo vehicle Mono-Blogs: Suffering Fools - currently running at the Harrison Hilltop Theatre - is a 60-plus-minute verbal marathon of rants, diatribes, and (as crass-tastic auteur Kevin Smith happily calls them) dick and fart jokes that Lewis delivers with unwavering fierceness and intensity.
Having given credit where credit is due, I found the show itself to be an upsetting and depressingly unfunny piece of work, and perhaps an even more dispiriting one if, like me, you're a fan of the actor's talents, and a fan of Lewis personally. Co-directed by Tristan Layne Tapscott, Suffering Fools is an awkward blend of the confessional, the confrontational, and the self-serving that isn't quite theatre and isn't quite stand-up, and it puts some of us in a truly awful position, because if you object to the material, it's Lewis himself you're forced to object to.
Although an original stage piece, Suffering Fools is actually an adaptation of several of Lewis' blog entries for his MySpace page, a combination of tirades (against such offenders as annoying library patrons, noisy neighbors, and pet owners who treat animals like people) and personal humiliations (including tales of flatulence, defecation, and shaving below the belt). There's nothing inherently wrong in this - plenty of comedians have made a good living off the angry-slash-embarrassed-young-man thing - and with Lewis playing Lewis here, Suffering Fools might've worked (better) had the production contented itself with being an uninterrupted, stream-of-consciousness display of the actor stinging over the bees in his bonnet.
He and Tapscott, though, have instead chosen to add voice-overs and a rather complex and confounding flashback structure, and while their decision to theatricalize Lewis' stories is admirable, it winds up making almost no sense at all. There are times here when Lewis addresses the audience directly, in the manner of a nightclub headliner (riffing and stumbling over words just as a stand-up would), but other times when the show is performed and staged as if he were blogging on the spot, with the audience cast as invisible spectators. (Twice, he returns to his keyboard to re-type a clunky passage.) Outré stories are prefaced as being fabrications, and then after they're delivered, revealed to be true ... though perhaps more truthy than true. Bloggings are recounted, and subsequently explained, as writings from Lewis' past, but feature details that make them unquestionably of the moment. (An obviously passé bit on the proliferation of "Bush/Cheney '04" bumper stickers bizarrely references Oliver Stone's W. movie.)
Yet even worse than the show's presentational confusion are its disheartening smugness and almost obdurate lack of irony. There's almost no end to the list of things that piss Lewis off in Suffering Fools, and the star certainly works himself into an impressive lather, but he forgets to address a simple question that would give his ravings some context: Exactly why are we listening to this guy?
He rails against the bad poetry in others' MySpace pages, but offers distasteful, occasionally offensive juvenilia as his alternative. (Though there were laughs at Friday's performance, I don't recall anyone laughing at Lewis' mention of the man with "a washcloth on his head" who "smelled like crotch," but then again, I wouldn't want to be within shouting distance of anyone who would laugh at that.) He disparages elderly restaurant patrons who order inexpensive White Zinfandel and tip badly, yet neglects to explain why it apparently took years for him to purchase a computer of his own. He seethes with resentment after his mother unwittingly nixes his chances at scoring with a good-looking Victoria's Secret employee, and later shares tales of his eye-watering farts and the time he took a crap in a stranger's lawn. ('Cause that'll land the girls.)
Theoretically, if you're reading someone's personal blog, it's because you already know something (or a lot of things) about him or her and want to know more, and it's easy to see how Lewis' blogs could be hugely entertaining for those who already know and love the man. And contrary to the spirit of this review, in Real Life I consider Lewis to be one of my dearest friends and a sensationally likable guy, and know many others who feel the same. But despite my appreciation for his skills, I found nothing likable about "Adam Michael Lewis" as a character here, because the show is built on the assumption that we - meaning the audience - already know him, yet we actually don't. We're given plenty of biographical stats, but all we really glean about "Adam Michael Lewis" as a person, based on Suffering Fools, is that he's quick-witted (and quick-talking), straight, prone to anger and resentment, and more than a little gross.
Lewis does offer intriguing tidbits about his character; my favorite came when voice-over narration explained that he was earning his living as a temporary assistant professor and "making more money than I knew what to do with," which, I think, would probably come as a shock to most of those who earn their living as temporary assistant professors. But we're left with only the sketchiest idea of what makes Lewis tick, and that's hugely damaging to a show that devotes at least as much time to his personal revelations as it does to his grievances. (The show could be reshaped as a stand-up piece fairly simply, and even though I'm not crazy about his scatological bent, I'd say that Lewis probably has a strong half-hour's worth of material here.) Still, Mono-Blogs: Suffering Fools will likely find plenty of favor amongst those who share its star's views, tastes, and sense of humor. I'm just bummed - heartbroken, really - that on Friday, the suffering fool of the title turned out to be me.
For tickets, call (309)235-1654.