By Tulis McCall
I am happy to report that the Doctor is IN. Most recently at Don’t Tell Mama on June 26th. IN-sync. IN-spiring. And just the teeniest bit IN-sane. Dr. Bradley Jones (yes that shingle is real) has just the right amount of observation, rhythm and razzle-dazzle to charm anyone within earshot. His patter is not patter. It is clean and precise. KT Sullivan’s direction is meticulous and serves Jones very well indeed. Jones knows exactly where each word belongs and why.
Jones possesses a point of view that takes the ordinary and gives it a good twist. His playground is the theatre. It all started in 1963 when, at age six, he saw Oliver on Broadway and immediately began to plot the death of the little boy in the title role. Which led him to plot the death of any little twerp he happened upon on the Great White Way.
The murder fantasies were never fulfilled. Instead they transformed into a “Teensy tiny little personality disorder,” which, Bradley admits, after 60 years of merely living with it, he has decided to celebrate. Welcome to Narcissism 101 and its many iterations. Jones admits that he is his own favorite subject and one he will happily share with us. His choice of music is all Broadway but not the ones you might know, and each one leads us down Jones’ path beginning with Life is Absolute Perfection (Bernstein from Candide). After careful study he has concluded that Narcissism is not self love at all, but proof of a lack of it. (Yes he is THAT kind of a Doctor.) There is a hole in the emotional soul of the narcissist which is often filled with fantasy of being perfect. The unhappy child repairs himself. What better fuel for a performer?
At 18 the narcissist came to New York to become an entertainer. Gotta Have Me Go With You (Arlen and Gershwin from A Star Is Born) is heavy stuff delivered with a light touch. His parents lived in Westport and made forays into New York as often as possible. They set an example of what life might be. A pathological accommodator (there is test after the show Bradley threatens), his father was a wilted pleaser on one side and a man about town complete with a mistress and a gambling habit on the other. And like his father, Jones wanted to please. In this case – his own father. Very Soft Shoes (Rodgers and Barer) is a sweet imagining of the ideal father everyone would want.
He enlists us into the Patty J (his mother) Fan Club and teaches us all the exact intonation for the word “faaaaa-bu-lussssss”. Patty J came to New York from Toledo. Like so many women of her day “she did not know how to ask the world for what she wanted.” She became fiercely social, and dominated and directed every scene she was in. With these two for examples it was easy to see how Jones’ childhood was filled with “responsibility and no power.” The Road You Didn’t Take (Sondheim from Follies) and I Remember (Sondheim from Evening Primrose) lead us down an unusual and intimate path.
Fast forward to a full-page ad for A Chorus Line. After 7 auditions Jones got a contract for a Bus and Truck Tour of 93 cities. It was his invitation to become like his parents: a burnt out beautiful person. It was NOT The Glamorous Life, and not a happy experience under the direction of Michael Bennett’s crew. But hey, Jones was 22 and enjoying himself because it was the 1980’s.
Jones got sober and older and looked at the Glamorous Life to discover it really wasn’t. His boyfriend was murdered. AIDS arrived and tore this town apart. In 1987 he met a dentist, still his partner. His knee blew out. I Miss The Mountains (Yorkey and Kitt from Next To Normal) is the story of discovering a life without Broadway. He chose psychotherapy so that he could become a Know-It-All, and instead had to go through several years of therapy himself before they would release him into his own custody. In 7 minutes Jones gives us the hilarious panoply – tapped out for us like Morse Code on Steroids – of 15 years of his life. All of which leads us to here and now where Jones lives quite happily in the present. IN-terested in other people. IN-timate. IN-Love.
Well, perhaps “happily” is too strong a word. I am certain Jones would shy away from that because it is too monochromatic. Loving You/Sorry Grateful (Sondheim from Passion and Company) complicates everything beautifully. Chorus Boy to psychoanalyst – one impossible career to another. There are days when he wonders WTF and others when he admires his own empathy and courage, and does not take it too seriously when he wants to burn the office down. Or give everyone a makeover. The six-year-old is alive and well and very present.
Anyone Can Whistle (Sondheim from Anyone Can Whistle) is heartbreaking in its impossible simplicity. We don’t get away until Jones flings one more marvelous smack on the cheek with his own very special Almost Like Being In Love/Ten Minutes Ago (Rodgers and Hammerstein from Brigadoon and Cinderella). His encore is a direct hit and we leave the theatre buoyant and brimming with good cheer. But please don’t tell Jones. He would deny any responsibility for that.
PS Jones is also is gracious enough to introduce his backup within minutes of hitting the stage: The Freudians, a quartet led by pianist Mike Pettry, the show’s music director, with Alden Banta on woodwinds, Jacob Silver on bass, and Zack Eldridge on percussion. Some performers save this to the last. Some never do it at all. Jones knows the right thing to do. He learned the hard way.