Floundering About (in an age of terror)
nytheatre.com review by Jo Ann Rosen
February 25, 2010
Sometimes it is just one incident that informs the lives of impressionable teens, but more often than not it is an accumulation of events that thrusts them into thinking beyond their own awesome needs, making them suddenly aware of the larger world around them. For David Lawson, coming of age in the first decade of the 21st century, it is a series of community threats that make him look back for hints of extremism.
In his one-man show, Floundering About (in an age of terror), Lawson enthusiastically dramatizes the traumatic current events that defined the past decade and influenced his teenage years growing up in Annandale, Virginia, outside the Washington, D.C. Beltway. Annandale, he claims, provided an idyllic childhood, where all the cannons from the Civil War still point north. He starts his monologue with September 11th, the anthrax attacks, HIV hysteria, and razor blades in Halloween candy and moves on to the DC sniper—a funny anecdote, in which Lawson tells us that his gym coach counsels the students to walk in unpredictable patterns when in open spaces. As in this anecdote, the performance perks up when he gets past events as we know them and gives the material his own personal imprint.
Two pivotal points come to mind. The first comes after he sees the U.S. attack on Iraq televised. The next day he is still preoccupied with the images he saw and remains seated during the singing of "The Star-Spangled Banner" at a school assembly. This is unusual since he likes the American flag and he often wells up with this song. But he is thinking about the two religiously-inspired wars that are going on as the flag waves before him. It is a moment of enormous growth.
The other dramatic point comes as he examines potential extremism in his own experience as a 12-year-old Jewish boy who went to a Lubovicher summer camp. A light bulb goes on, he says, when he remembers enthusiastically discussing how realistic the dinosaurs looked in the movie Jurassic Park. A counselor approached and told Lawson that he was not to talk about dinosaurs any more. He said the Torah was 5,000 years old, doesn't mention dinosaurs, and that therefore they never existed. This is a weighted moment of recognition about adults, knowledge, religion, and choice.
Unfortunately, both this and the previous dramatic event are nearly lost, because in the telling of his stories there seems to be no difference between the terrible external moments and the enormous impact they have on him personally. Lawson has the rhythms of a good storyteller. I could envision him pulling up a stool and having an intimate, entertaining 50 minutes with his audience. Instead, he chooses to project to the back of the room—here, only a few yards away in a small black box theatre—and gesticulates as if he were on a Broadway stage.