In his quest to build a better mousetrap, Ben Rimalower naturally turned to Patti LuPone. Who hasn't? And, it was a natural. She never left. Along the way, he's tried to sort the pieces together of the fire within that fueled him and his quasi-dysfunctional family demons – and real life. He's wrapped it all together in a compelling piece that is funny, poignant and, at times, wildly angry. He's been presenting it all to full houses at The Duplex.
In the auto-bio cabaret/theater piece/therapy session, Patti Issues, the befuddled and multi- talented Rimalower, makes his intimate room bow with a flair. Along with director Aaron Mark, he has crafted a one-man show around his enchanted infatuation with the Broadway diva who has been his obsession since childhood. And, what a childhood. Along the way, he infuses a multitude of complexities and topsy-turvy family issues he faced against this preoccupation. For starters, he found out early that his father was gay; “ … my father was not only gay, he was a bottom.” Then, there was his parent's break up - when he was nine years old. He connects milestones in LuPone's career such as her forays in A Class Act, Sweeney Todd, Gypsy and, of course, the Evita cast album to his own rights of passage. But, it was her turn in The Baker's Wife that cemented his fixation. Hearing her sing “Meadowlark” was a revelation. He would also see her in concert singing hits from Broadway shows.
Throughout, his own trials included a volatile custody case, a ranting mother, a suicidal father whom he was separated from, therapy (for the third time,) when he was ten years old (“... it isn't healthy for children to be ostracized from a parent.” And, his adoption by his new stepfather. None of it was easy for him. Through it all, Patti LuPone's voice brought consolation and solace from the cacophonous madness surrounding his coming of age. He admits that, for awhile, “it was pretty cool;” chilling with his dad in gay bars, etc. It didn't last. This flowering was, subsequently, the start of an increasingly contentious, see-saw relationship between Ben and his neurotic-volatile father who vented relentlessly about his ex-wife, child support, his ex's new husband (Ben's step-dad) and more issues than the Republican's face that seem to have carried over to this day (the current state of affairs between father and son is fuzzy – maybe a sequel is in the works?)
Presented as a monologue with comedy and no music, except for occasional outbursts of Patti-isms, Rimalower is a 35 year old attention-getting theater director who made noise with vehicles like Off-Broadway's Joy (Actor's Playhouse) and The Fabulous Life Of A Size Zero (Daryl Roth Theatre.) His list of credits also includes, Justin Sayre Is Alive And Well … Writing (Ars Nova,) Project Lohan (La MaMa, E.T.C.,) Snoopy starring Sutton Foster (Symphony Space,) And/Or (Hot Festival,) Sodom: The Musical (Kraine Theatre) and Night Of A Thousand Judy's (Playwrights Horizons), as well as several staged readings and directing a bevy of today's artists. Rimalower conceived and directed the award-winning Leslie Kritzer Is Patti LuPone at Les Mouches and also produced the album, Patti LuPone at Les Mouches (Sh-K-Boom/Ghostlight Records) which was digitally restored from archival tapes of Ms. LuPone's legendary midnight run at the now defunct club in 1980.
He is an endearingly affable, handsome guy with a great grin and charisma to spare. He delivers his riotous, sometimes raging, kinetic diatribes with funny, direct deprecations that spin a yarn of a troubled, albeit creative, childhood that is not exactly in his past. That is, when he isn't obsessing over the divadom of Ms. LuPone and her milestones. At times, Rimalower conveys side-splitting anecdotes about his muse such as their bumbling first meeting, running lines with her and other silliness that left him more awestruck. You see, anything to do with LuPone catapulted him into starry-eyed, moonstruck ecstasy. All this Patti obsession brought him a respite and comfort as he coped with his family demons. Throughout, he keeps returning to an underlying theme of all this angst and repeatedly takes his father to task in an almost vile manner that is fodder for enough shrinks to fill Argentina.
Above all, Rimalower delivers this revealing, sometimes trenchant and riveting insight into how his seemingly normal Jewish boyhood turned upside down – and left a few scars. Throughout the turmoil of his youth, he repeatedly found his solace by fixating on Patti LuPone. This, by the way, is not new territory for gay men. Think of the many similar Judy Garland – troubled gay boy syndrome vehicles over the years that have been mounted with mixed results. Here, due to sheer courage and blatant honesty, Rimalower takes it all to a new level of intelligence and trenchant humor in a take-no-prisoners exchange that is the talk of the town. His journey also led him to professional associations with many including turns with Lonny Price. It is all well written and his delivery and comic timing are on target. One could see this expanding beyond an intimate room.
Rimalower, the director, is quite the find as a performer of insightful depth and versatility. His high octane performance is delivered with urbane and gay wit that stings as well as touches the audience. In spite of a plethora of inside show-biz jokes that will appeal mainly to gay men, Patti Issues that has universal appeal – the fractured family. Who among us hasn't had parental issues that extended beyond childhood? And, who hasn't obsessed over Patti LuPone – or another diva counterpart? Rimalower has. And, baring his naked soul, has found a unique niche that has staying power.
The run has been extended again and Rimalower leaves the door open for a sequel. Surely, there is more to unload. For now, this rising director-cum monologist-performance artist proves himself with one of the more piercingly poignant cabaret/theatre pieces on the boards in years.
Saturday, November 17th at 4PM
Wednesday, November 28th at 9:30 PM
Thursday, December 6th at 9:30 PM
Wednesday, December 12th at 9:30 PM
Friday, December 21st at 9:30 PM
Saturday, December 22nd at 9:30 PM
Friday, December 28th at 9:30 PM
Saturday, December 29th at 9:30 PM
PLUS: Rockwell Table and Stage in LA on November 25
Ben Rimalower: Patti Issues (through December 29, various times)
The Duplex Cabaret Theatre, 61 Christopher Street at Sheridan Square, in Manhattan
For tickets or information: 212–255-5438 or http://www.theduplex.com