Written and Performed by Raanan Hershberg
Part of the 2018 New York International Fringe Festival
Off Off Broadway, Solo Show
Runs through 10.27.18
FringeHUB, 685 Washington Street
by Ed Malin on 10.26.18
Raanan Hershberg in Off the Grid. Photo by Nathan Hartswick.
BOTTOM LINE: While on tour, a damaged phone causes Raanan Hershberg to be "off the grid," leading him to riff on the enhanced isolation that technology has wrought.
Raanan Hershberg is full of energy as he talks about touring comedy clubs around the country, many of which are in the same type of strip mall, next to a Bed, Bath and Beyond and a Cheesecake Factory. Often, Hershberg opens for a comedian who was famous in the 90s. In the face of the same setting in town after town, he takes solace in his virtual connection to his friends and loved ones. But when Hershberg cracks his smartphone and is unable to reach his agent, his girlfriend and others scattered all over the map, the torturous day or two makes him wonder how he was able to get by fifteen years ago.
Hershberg seasons his observations with irony, but also defends his right to be neurotic. Why shouldn't he consider this mishap a first-world problem? How awful is it, really, to be "alone with his thoughts"? For better or worse, the lack of a smartphone means an extra trip to—gasp—the public library to go online. Remembering that libraries were once well-staffed, Hershberg finds four self-check-out computers and one elder librarian who died a few years ago. His sardonic humor is joyously uplifting. Other difficult gigs follow, such as a standup performance at a country fair, in the back of a pickup truck, hundreds of feet from the grandstand. Hershberg asks his audience to make hand gestures instead of laughter, which he is too remote to hear. In the end, Off the Grid is about connection. Even after a set where no one laughs, there might be an old man who approaches Hershberg to gift him with "this is the first time I've been out since my wife of fifty years died."
The final judgment might be expected to come when Hershberg's phone service is restored. What did he miss? Will the cumulative effect be worth the wait? Or, should we ask, are people essentially the same all over? Are bullying misogynists going to get bounced from the club, the one with the similar name, near the Cheesecake Factory? Like cheesecake, Off the Grid is densely packed with goodness. Hershberg's ability to deliver funny jokes doesn't let up for a second. If that energy ever causes him, or could cause anyone else, to be "alone with his thoughts," then I will see that as a blessing.
(Off the Grid plays at FringeHUB, 685 Washington Street at Charles Street, through October 27, 2018. Meet at the PINK FringeNYC flag. The running time is 75 minutes. Performances are Sat 10/13 at 7, Mon 10/15 at 8:45, Sat 10/20 at 3, Wed 10/24 at 5, and Sat 10/27 at 7. There is no late seating at FringeNYC. Tickets are $22 (plus $3.69 ticketing fee), $16 (plus $3.51) for seniors, and are ONLY available online at fringenyc.org. For more information visit raananhershberg.com.)
Off the Grid is written and performed by Raanan Hershberg.