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Neal Brennan: Unacceptable

A highly unusual, thought-provoking and effective work of stand-up comedy that should be seen.

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Neal Brennan in his “Unacceptable” at the Cherry Lane Theatre (Photo credit: Matt Murphy)

David Kaufman

David Kaufman, Critic

If a hallmark of our best stand-up comics is that he or she is unique—think of Whoopi Goldberg, Jackie Mason and Lenny Bruce—a relative newcomer named Neal Brennan belongs in their company. In his new work, Neal Brennan: Unacceptable, directed by Derek Delgaudio, now playing at the Cherry Lane Theater—a jewel box space in the West Village—Brennan sustains his non-stop humor for 90 intermissionless minutes. This is despite our having been told it would only be for 75 minutes. But we welcome the 15 extra minutes.

When we enter the theater, the remarkably spartan stage has only a chair and a small round table with a glass of water on it, or what you might call the comic’s indispensable props. It also has on the rear wall a rectangular box with a number of carved wooden objects resting on shelves, including a rainbow, a dog, a gun, a birdhouse, a cross and other items. (At the very end, a shadow of these objects forms a profile of Brennan’s face.) Brennan uses the icons on the rear wall to inspire his recollections. The set designer is Anna Louizos. There is also shifting purple lighting by Adam Blumenthal. Though I don’t recall many sounds, the sound designer is Kevin Heard. But what unfolds isn’t so much a work of art as another one-of-a kind performance piece.

Brennan himself is extremely skinny (as he says during the course of the show, “If I lose two more pounds I’ll have to go the hospital”) and he’s dressed all in black. He also wears glasses and resembles nothing so much as a nerd.

Neal Brennan in his “Unacceptable” at the Cherry Lane Theatre (Photo credit: Matt Murphy)

At his most politically correct, Brennan says, “The homeless are no longer called ‘homeless.’ They’re called the ‘unhoused,’” and that “I’m still more afraid of other Liberals than I am of Republicans.” Also, “White privilege is money: that’s what parents are for.”

Despite the humor, much of what Brennan relates might be referred to as truisms about life, such as when he says, early on, that we are frequently “watching our friends have opinions about facts.” Much of the comedy is to be found in saying things that we can all relate to, even if we never articulated it to ourselves or others.

Brennan also tells us that he lives in Venice, California, that he is the youngest of ten children, that he has a beloved dog named Keith, and that beginning with MDA, drugs have never worked for him. Neal Brennan: Unacceptable is certainly not bereft of personal information.

Some may feel that Brennan, at times, talks too fast and that some of the references are more apt to be understood by younger members of the audience. But Neal Brennan: Unacceptable is a highly unusual, thought-provoking and effective work that should be seen.

Neal Brennan: Unacceptable (through November 21, 2021)

Cherry Lane Theater, 38 Commerce Street, west of Sixth Avenue, in Manhattan

For tickets, visit http://www.UnacceptableShow.com

90 minutes without an intermission

Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

David Kaufman
About David Kaufman (122 Articles)
David Kaufman has been covering the theater in New York since 1981. A former theater critic for the New York Daily News, he was also a long-time contributor to the Nation, Vanity Fair, the Village Voice and the New York Times. He is also the author of the award-winning Ridiculous! The Theatrical Life and Times of Charles Ludlam, the best-selling Doris Day: The Untold Story of the Girl Next Door, and his most recent biography, Some Enchanted Evenings: The Glittering Life and Times of Mary Martin.

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