BOTTOM LINE: A slightly misguided show performed with fair amounts of comedic ease and sincerity.
There's no denying that it's been a crazy decade. David Lawson's one man show Floundering About (in an age of terror) takes aim at making sense of collective American experiences of the past ten years or so. He covers everything from 9/11 to the immersion of a land-walking fish into the Washington DC area ecosystem. Lawson is an energetic and invested storyteller and his comedic moments come naturally to him. The hour flies by quite quickly and you walk out feeling more like you've had a conversation with a friend than witnessed a theatrical performance.
Where Lawson dramatically misses connecting with in this piece, is in ability to separate what are his personal, unique experiences and what are experiences that are part of many Americans', or at least his audience's, collective conscious. I find this to be the problem with many one person shows, and this isn't the exception. He seems to think that all of his experiences are unique, or that a vast majority of the population didn't struggle with the same moments and emotions that he did growing up.
Lawson brings an endearing and precocious humor to stories about his very young years at a Hassidic Jewish summer camp where he gets chastised for discussing the "myth of dinosaurs" and exposes both humor, and a woebegone hopelessness to the opinions of Fred Phelps, but for every amusing tidbit or insightful angle he has, there are five more stories that feel dull and obvious. I need not be reminded that people thought the twenty dollar bill foretold the terrorist attacks on the Pentagon or that what it meant to be an American was all of the sudden completely confusing and muddled. I don't need theater to remind me how absurd the Anthrax months were. Lawson lists the proximity of his parents' work locations to the Pentagon in a slow, sobering tone, in a way that suggests he has forgotten that he is playing to a New York audience. Yeah, we know, we all knew people close to attacks. We get it. It's not that I think his attempt to tackle this material is unwarranted. On the contrary, I think that a play about what growing up in the age of terror had done to the psyche of a generation would be fascinating. But instead of reflecting on what the climate had done to his development, Lawson listed a plethora of happenings.
It's possible the show would have played better someplace more disconnected from all of the hustle and bustle of the times. It could serve as a reflection on what it was like to live on the East Coast of the US in the past ten years to someone who didn't have the experience.
(Floundering About plays at the UNDER St. Mark's Theatre, 94 St. Mark's Place, through March 6, 2010. Remaining Performance is 03/06 at 7PM. Tickets are $7 and can be purchased at smarttix.com. For more festival information visit frigidnewyork.info.)