Spoiler alert: at one point in Brian Dykstra’s one-man show, Selling Out, the audience is invited to yell “fire” in a crowded theatre. I won’t divulge the punch line to this set up, but Dykstra nails the timing and provides one of the night’s few non-political laughs. Most of the rest of the evening’s humor – and there is a goodly amount of it – stems from Dykstra being up in arms over the fact that money makes the world go round, and that the world is suffering greatly as a result. He is incensed, I tell you! Enraged! Not at all happy, not one bit!
Standing firmly on the shoulders of a familiar group of angry, middle-aged white guys with rich vocabularies who came before him, Dykstra delivers his diatribes and one can hear strains of George Carlin, Bill Maher, Michael Moore, Mike Daisey, Norm MacDonald and, especially, Lewis Black. In some moments of righteous rage he seems to almost be channeling Black, though he substitutes a dark sense of irony and a knowing smile for Black’s urban neuroticism and spastic fingers. The territory he covers in the show’s first half is familiar and at times it feels he is beating an already dead horse, or elephant in this case, as he aims his sights at such republican targets as George W. Bush, the labelling of corporations as people, and the refusal to believe that global warming exists.
His saving grace, and the thing that most notably sets him apart from the above list of comics, is that somewhere along the way, in a lengthy career of being just under the radar, he was exposed to poetry slams, and has found a way to incorporate the cadences of street verse into his act. He begins the performance in a poetic stream of synonyms, all the words that mean money, and stops for a moment to dwell on the most significant: change. Then, at various points in the performance, he ambles over to a mic stand and drives home a full-on prose poem. It’s a bold move from director Margarett Perry, a frequent collaborator of Dykstra’s, and a more successful one than the mid-show attempt to have Dykstra assume the guise of a Somalian fisherman explaining his plight, complete with accent. It seems a bad omen and sure enough the show soon takes a wide turn away from political specificity and toward big picture metaphysics, with a lengthy final monologue that explores the existence of God, ponders the origins of art and seeks the boundaries of love. This gambit has a decidedly hypnotic effect on the heretofore chuckling audience, but it is just interesting enough (and by then Dykstra has earned enough good will), to gain him an enthusiastic curtain call.
David L. Arsenault’s set design is bare bones, but makes good use of a black and white American flag backdrop that occasionally comes alive with projections by Lesley Greene, most cleverly when the stripes become stock tickers and the stars are replaced by corporate logos. Subtle, it is not, but Dykstra has nothing to do with understatement. He’s incensed!
Brian Dykstra Selling Out – Written by Brian Dykstra; Directed by Margarett Perry.
WITH: Brian Dykstra
Sets & lighting design based on original design by David L. Arsenault; costumes by Lisa Boquist; sound design by Don Tindall; projection design by Lesley Greene; at The Playroom Theater, 151 West 46th Street, Mon. – Wed. at 7pm, Sat. at 2 pm, through March 3rd, 212-967-8278, http://www.sellingoutoffbroadway.com, Running time: 85 minutes.