By Casey Curtis
You should be so lucky as to be on a spaceship with Ethan Lipton. If you do take off into “The Outer Space”, now in residence at the Public Theater, the journey you will go on is a funny, insightful allegory of a couple who move away from the headaches and expense of a big city to the different headaches and challenges of relocating to a rural area for more affordable life. The husband wants to remain in a place akin to New York City — Ethan calls it remaining on Earth. The wife wants to go to a place akin to the county — Ethan calls it going to Mercury.
Ethan Lipton’s songs are quirky delights. His rhymes are original and satisfying and his lyrics are joyful in their simple brilliance. Each time he sings, he employs a unique concept and executes it in a way that brings pleasure derived from experiencing truth and heart-felt wit.
The musical begins:
SHE WAS WALKING HER DOGS ROUND THE OLD NEIGHBORHOOD AS SHE’D DONE THE WHOLE DECADE BEFORE
WHEN DOWN ON THE SIDEWALK SHE SAW A CRACK VIAL
LIKE WE USED TO FIND IN DAYS OF YORE…
AND SHE SAID TO HER DOGGIES, GO FETCH YOUR OLD MASTER AND BRING HIS OLD TIRED BUTT TO SHORE
FOR WE SET SAIL AT SUNDOWN ON A GREAT NEW ADVENTURE CUZ WE DON’T BELONG HERE ANYMORE
One irony that made me sad was that the very people in Joe’s Pub that were laughing at the show’s conceit were, as far as this reviewer could tell, the very people that gentrified the lower east side and various neighborhoods around the city. These 1%-ers get to take in at this tale of an artist being displaced by high rents while sipping their overpriced martinis and noshing on expensive appetizers. The artists who can’t afford this, not in the room.
The Outer Space is performed by Ethan Lipton as a series of monologues and songs. Ethan is backed up by his band of three terrific musicians: Vito Dieterle (saxophones/keyboards), Eben Levy (guitar), and Ian m. Riggs (bass).
A song that demonstrates Mr. Lipton’s original approach has a hook of “ BUT YOU WON’T TAKE AWAY MY GRUMPY.” The narrator doesn’t wish to mindlessly practice gratitude. He wants to keep that big city edge.
Each song along the way has its own brilliant quirky insightfulness. Each song surprises. Occasionally the monologue part of the tale got a bit lengthy (even for a show that was just 80 minutes long). The allegory wears a little thin in spite of witty riffs that have wonderful topical references. At one point the narrator talks of wanting to get away from “corporate greed, cultural homogenization, economic marginalization, pollution, overcrowded schools, overpriced rents, overhyped pastries, and busker rock.” Having once stood on a line for hours to try a cronut, the reference to overhyped pastries (while the least tragic item on the list) was spot on.
My only complaint about the show — but it’s a big one — is the venue itself. The Public Theater is a beloved, cherished institution. If you told me there could only be one theater in New York, I would want it to be The Public Theater. But either the sound at Joe’s Pub is lacking or it wasn’t mixed well or Ethan Lipton’s diction wasn’t optimal. I had to strain to hear the words all night long. Fortunately the show’s publicist provided me with a script so I could read every delicious word at home. If Joe’s Pub can’t improve their sound — and a comfortable chair would be nice as well (the un-cushioned wooden chair was not welcoming to the human spine), then The Outer Space is better experienced by buying a recording and listening to it through headphones. But whichever choice you make, do take it in — you will go on a journey of stellar songwriting.
THE OUTER SPACE – book and lyrics by Ethan Lipton, directed by Leigh Silverman
Featuring music composed and performed by Ethan Lipton, Vito Dieterle, Eben Levy, and Ian Riggs.
The Public Theater (Artistic Director, Oskar Eustis; Executive Director, Patrick Willingham) – Public Theater Member and Partner tickets, as well as single tickets starting at $45, can be accessed now by calling (212) 967-7555, visiting www.publictheater.org, or in person at the Taub Box Office at The Public Theater at 425 Lafayette Street. Joe’s Pub at The Public serves food nightly, but there is no food or drink minimum for THE OUTER SPACE.
Through Sunday, April 9.