Robin de Jesus takes over local Patti Issues while creator Ben Rimalower takes it overseas
By Doug Strassler
Ben Rimalower earned raves – in addition to a Bistro and Mac Award – for his solo show Patti Issues, in which he detailed his relationship with his father and his devotion to the arts, particularly to Patti LuPone. Eventually, Rimalower even became a personal and professional acquaintance of La LuPone, as recounted in hilarious and often touching detail during the show.
Rimalower is taking his act on the road – and then some, with stops in Boston, Glasgow, and Berlin in August and September, plus an upcoming South Florida “mini-tour,” following recent performances in Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Berkeley, Provincetown, the Fire Island Pines and Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in Watertown, CT. Meanwhile, the show will go on at the Duplex, where two-time Tony nominee Robin De Jesus (In the Heights, La Cage Aux Folles) stepping in to play Ben. New York Press spoke to both performers separately about their new roles in this joint endeavor. Below is what transpired.
NYP: Are you also a big fan of Patti LuPone?
RDJ: I LOVE PATTI! How could you not? Anytime you see Patti, you know that you are in for an experience.
NYP: When did you first discover who she was?
RDJ: I discovered Patti on an Andrew Lloyd Webber Greatest Hits CD. The CD had songs from Joseph, Jesus Christ Superstar, Cats….and of course it had a song from Evita, “High Flying Adored.” I didn’t know who Mandy Patinkin or Patti LuPone was but after listening to the song I assumed Mandy played the role of Evita. Oops! Luckily a friend from high school helped me right that wrong.
NYP: What is it like, now sharing your own story with someone else playing you?
BR: It’s exciting for me as a writer. It’s my first time seeing someone else perform my work at all, let alone play me.
NYP: Was there any kind of “training” session with Robin?
BR: Robin’s been in rehearsal with Aaron Mark, the director of Patti Issues. We’re approaching this like any other play.
NYP: What is it like, essentially playing Ben?
RDJ: Playing Ben is great but honestly I don’t feel like I’m playing him because Ben has done such a great job at making this show universal. I think it could work with any decent actor and the audience, with no knowledge of who Ben is, would still love it.
NYP: What do you think Robin will bring to Patti Issues?
BR: I think that Robin will bring a lot of humor and heart. Robin’s a very emotionally accessible performer, I think he’s extremely likable and I think that will more than make up for whatever points I won with the audience by virtue of this being my own true-life story. And I’m really excited to see what laughs Robin gets. I plan to steal some for my tour dates!
NYP: Did you get a chance to see Patti Issues with Ben?
RDJ: I got to see Ben do the show three times. Once in Los Angeles, before I knew I was doing it, and twice after. He was wonderful, so touching and so funny.
NYP: How did you decide which cities to bring this show to?
BR: It’s kind of a scorched earth approach, shock and awe! I work with Shelly Weiss at Out Media and we wrack our brains to come up with where I might score a booking. And if there’s a place I want to go specifically or happen to be visiting for other reasons, I’ll leave no stone unturned in finding a way to play there.
NYP: Do you have any audience expectations for these new venues?
BR: Audiences are different everywhere in terms of how I get to them and what they bring to the experience in terms of context and points of reference, but audiences are also the same everywhere. At its core, Patti Issues is story of my experience coming to terms with my relationship (or lack thereof) with my father. That’s so universal and the reactions are the same whether I’m at the Duplex or in Berlin.
NYP: What is the scariest part about taking on this show?
RDJ: Honestly, memorizing it. That was the scariest thing for me. Once I’m memorized and blocked with any show, I just want an audience. Then I can really figure things out.
NYP: And what is the most exciting thing?
RDJ: The challenge of doing this show is honestly the most exciting thing for me. I love working, I love to feel like I’m working and I love not letting the audience know I’m working. I feel very lucky to be a working actor in New York. I get to do what I love, in shows that I love, with people that I love. No complaints here!
For more information on Patti Issues, please visit www.PattiIssues.com.
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