Ben Rimalower’s solo star tribute is his own star turn
By Doug Strassler
Perched in the upstairs performance space at West Village staple The Duplex is Patti Issues, an ongoing solo show featuring director-writer Ben Rimalower paying tribute to the ultimate diva and his favorite star of all – Patti LuPone (you were expecting…Kerry Butler?)
La LuPone may be a constant throughout Patti, but she’s isn’t that focal point. That would be Mr. Rimalower himself, who, in a taut 70 minutes explains how he came to understand his emerging homosexuality long before he could articulate it as a child. And who can blame him for falling for LuPone after hearing her on the Original Broadway Cast Recording of Evita? His was a California youth fraught with change, including a parents’ divorce, his father’s eventual coming out, his mother’s remarriage, and multiple trips to therapy before the age of eleven.
It is to his credit that Mr. Rimalower recounts these wounds with a candor that hits all the right comedic notes, referencing arcana that only his largely gay, showtunes-loving audience would know, but also divulging the events and people that shaped him in an accessible, humane manner. Patti shows off his remarkable presence as a live performer, reeling his audience in and also perceptively reading them with his pacing (director Aaron Mark has surely played a role in this).
However, as Mr. Rimalower moves forward with his autobiography, it is marked by a curious absence of obstacles. It isn’t long before the Berkeley alum gets a job at Princeton’s McCarter Theater, leading to a professional relationship with the director Lonny Price. It was there that Mr. Rimalower assisted on the New York Philharmonic’s 2000 gala production of Sweeney Todd, which featured LuPone as Mrs. Lovett and afforded him the opportunity to rehearse lines with the star in her own apartment – all before he turned 25.
Mr. Rimalower’s frontloaded recounting of events brims with brio; he’s ebullient as ebullience can be without ever getting caught up in his stories. He gets in several barbs at that other reigning diva, Ms. Bernadette Peters and recites from her 2008 Gypsy Tony acceptance speech (though he credits one of her lines to LuPone when she herself attributed the bon mot to a writer friend of hers in her memoir). His clarity of thought and diction is commendable. It’s just that as his achievements become even more triumphant – being personally requested by LuPone to go through her video archive and compile a reel, a series of phone messages left for him, his 2006 recreation of Les Mouches at the Public Theater starring Leslie Kritzer – the evening loses its dramatic momentum. When LuPone turns on him once Les Mouches develops a life of its own without her, one doesn’t sense the void that this lifelong heroine of Mr. Rimalower’s should have left. Only a sense of triumph persists. He does, after all, have his own show!
Similarly, a chance encounter with his estranged biological father, who disappears from the evening’ narration as Mr. Rimalower focuses on his East Coast life, feels like a lost storytelling opportunity, providing neither further drama nor closure to Mr. Rimalower’s tale of his life so far. In fact, it is odd that such a winning evening ultimately ends a line that feels rather abrupt.
Here’s hoping that as Patti’s run – which includes performances in other cities – continues, its star will add more emotional heft in the later stages of his story. Even Ms. LuPone herself, most of whose trips to the Great White Way have been in revivals, knows how to deliver a star turn even when the material isn’t fresh. But it would have been nice to see the extremely talented Mr. Rimalower off both up in his show’s present form.
Patti Issues runs at the Duplex Cabaret Theater, 61 Christopher Street, www.pattiissues.brownpapertickets.com.
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