Escape from Bellevue and Other Stories
nytheatre.com review by Alyssa Simon
January 6, 2006
Does anyone deserve fame?
Well, Christopher John Campion, the frontman for the band Knockout Drops, cared so much that he wasn't getting famous that he descended into dark depression, drugs, and attention-getting-at-any-cost suicide threats. This landed him in Bellevue three times and gave him a few funny stories that unfortunately do not sustain or make for a compelling theatrical event.
The stories, one in particular about partying with rodeo clowns when he's supposed to be behaving himself as his girlfriend's date at a family wedding, are a highlight. Campion is gifted at mimicry and brings to life various characters whom he calls "vicious freaks," a term of endearment. Although at the time he was getting hammered every night and couch-surfing, the name-calling now comes off as removed and judgmental. It's like he's trying to get us to believe how crazy his adventures were, when in reality—since he felt he was destined for much greater things—he was just slumming.
This is most apparent in a story he tells about how he got to eat for free by befriending the owner of his local bodega. The men who work and hang out there ("Latin guys," as he calls them) get a kick out of him because he has learned how to say "I love to fuck turtles!" in Spanish. So, every day, he comes in, says that, and gets a sandwich. He also earns the nickname Tortuga. In a video vignette directed by Chris Cassidy, we see Campion, now in green turtle-like sunglasses walking into bodegas and yelling out that phrase to men behind the counter. It's supposed to be funny, the workers are supposed to be befuddled dupes, but they just look at him like he's an immature jerk.
That's not to say Campion is not a charmer. He is often clever and funny, with a self-deprecating and rakish wit. It seems ghoulish to wish that his stories were darker or that he had other reasons for drug dependency than not having a number one hit on the charts. This is his actual life that he is talking about and for those who know him personally, it is a great thing that he is now off drugs and in a better mood.
His band—Tom Licameli on guitar and vocals, Phil Mastrangelo on bass and vocals, Vinny Cimino on drums, and Paul Giannini on percussion—are on stage with him the entire time and in between stories, they play songs, some inspired by Campion's experiences. The music is firmly in the pop genre, nothing too original but strong and solid. Campion has a good voice and some great rock star moves. The problem here is the venue. The moves come off as contrived because the audience is sitting down and watching. If the band was playing in a bar and the audience was standing and dancing along, his energy would feed ours and we would give it right back, creating more of the dangerous momentum that is the great thing about rock and roll. Otherwise, Horton Foote Jr.'s direction is fluid, creating a lively pace that connects the stories and video clips and leads into the songs. The set design by Bret Haines is a very funny visual pun. What looks to be acoustic padding on the walls is, on closer inspection, white wall padding for a mental institution.
There seemed to be many audience members that night who are friends and relatives and who have seen Campion through his dark times. I could see from their support and enthusiasm that he always had a big group of people who loved him and would never let him fall that far. That's wonderful, but—and this is only speaking from a theatrical point of view—it's not very interesting. In fact, after a while the self-indulgence and narcissism of a man who comes from a nice family and always seems to get picked up when he cries over nothing because he is charming become annoying and then exasperating. I started to feel like a soon-to-be-ex girlfriend. I knew he was cute, but I just wanted him out of my apartment and my records back.