By Mike Albo; Directed by David Schweizer
Off Broadway, Solo Show
Runs through 4.22.14
Lynn Redgrave Theater at the Culture Project, 45 Bleecker Street
by Adrienne Urbanski on 3.21.14
Mike Albo in The Junket.
BOTTOM LINE: Mike Albo's enigmatic performance and laugh-out-loud script make this show worth seeing.
2009 was a temperamental time, especially for print journalists who found their jobs ending as papers folded and online blogs like Gawker tracked their demise. Mike Albo’s one-man show The Junket (which was originally a Kindle single) describes his real life experience as being at the center of a controversy that seems to embody this turbulent time in media.
As a freelance journalist in New York City, Mike Albo thought he had hit it big the day he got his own biweekly column with the New York Times, “The Critical Shopper.” But as a freelance employee without health insurance or any benefits whatsoever, Albo had to struggle to make it on less than $25,000 a year. While Albo lived paycheck to paycheck he spent his days writing about the luxurious lives of Manhattan’s uber wealthy, visiting designer stores and fashion shows to write about items that cost far more than he could ever dream of affording.
Tired of living on scant means, Albo is excited when he receives an invite to a mystery trip put on by Thrillist (whom Albo disguises as "Dudester"), a trip sponsored by such brands as Trojan condoms. But there's a problem: the New York Times has a strict policy against their writers accepting swag. Albo’s friend advises him that as long as he is attending the trip as an individual and not a representative of the paper he will be fine. Albo is depressed and tired of barely getting by so he goes on the trip, despite his better judgment.
The trip is predictably laughable and cheesy, filled with D-list celebrities and gift bags galore. Albo returns home only to find himself chewed apart by hip blogs (like Gawker) that call him out for going against the policy of the Times. While the Times first defends his decision, it later fires Albo after the blogs continually bad-mouth him. Soon the very same blogs that threw Albo under the bus now praise him as a martyr for the plight of freelance journalism, even creating t-shirts with his name.
While Albo’s story is a small one bereft of dramatic scenes (especially since the Times fires him via email instead of in person) he manages to make the most of his tale. Albo points out what his story represents: the replacement of print journalism with online journalism, the culture of low-paid journalists in New York who depend on swag and glamour to compensate, and the precarious life of contemporary freelance journalists.
Albo is a gifted performer and storyteller. He imbues his story with sarcastic commentary (he follows up the fact that he went to graduate school to study poetry with a sarcastic “Kaching!”) And he helpfully fleshes out the details of his story, such as describing a moment in which he has to write up a luxury clothing store filled with things he will never afford, and stands in front of the dressing room mirror dressed up for a lifestyle that is not his.
Albo's willingness to criticize and poke fun at himself makes him a more likeable presence as he does not try to play the victim card. Albo also augments his story with video and animation that helps to make the show more engaging. The Junket is a laugh-out-loud funny show that offers up authentic ruminations on life in New York City, a city filled with disparate wealth and ceaseless ambition. At a mere 65 minutes, Albo manages to pack in more laughs and thoughtful analysis than many full-length productions can.
(The Junket plays at Lynn Redgrave Theater, 45 Bleecker Street, through April 20, 2014. Performances are Tuesdays through Saturdays at 7 PM OR 9 PM, and Sundays at 5 PM. See ticket website for exact times. Tickets are $25-$55 and are available at ovationtix.com or by calling 866.811.4111. For more information visit cultureproject.org/current/junket.)