I Light Up My Life: The Mark Sam Celebrity Autobiography
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
August 13, 2011
I Light Up My Life, Mark Sam Rosenthal's "preemptive celebrity autobiography," blends arch parody of an archetypal celebrity-obsessed/self-obsessed psyche with a more conventional autobiographical/confessional solo show esthetic; the result is not especially successful. Rosenthal begins the show by entering through the same doors that the audience just came through, loaded down with shopping bags, mouthing "you came!" at us and making me wonder where he thought we came to, and where he thought he was, and where we were supposed to think he had just been.
And then he drops that layer of artifice to enter, comfortably, a more conventional one: settling down into a chair, he starts reading to us from his faux-memoir, a thick hard-back book entitled "I Light Up My Life." This device—that he is sharing stories from his life, which have been published even though he is not yet the celebrity he claims to want to become—frames almost all of the rest of the show. (Inexplicably, he ventures to a microphone once in a great while to share, performance-art-ily, things like "My Morning Ritual" or "A Few of My Favorite Things.")
The tone of the memoir wavers between a pretended arrogance/snobbery that represents the nearly nascent celebrity that our hero aspires to and a more appealing and vulnerable (and presumably more authentic) version of Mark Sam Rosenthal. The actor's accent (he is from Baton Rouge, Louisiana) drifts in and out along with the two personas. I kept longing for more of the real Rosenthal, and for more depth and detail in the anecdotes he imparts: something to grab onto to make me care about this person sharing so much with me; something universal to identify or empathize with beyond the surface recitation.
Because what we do learn is interesting and suggestive. Rosenthal is the son of a Jewish father and an aristocratic Southern Methodist mother (and the religious differences clearly matter to him, though we never learn why). He tells us that his mother was unhappy and that she wanted to help him "over" being gay by urging him to play sports; the gaping subtext is not explored. He reveals that his father died of AIDS, and that he made a gay porn film and likes unprotected sex with men (that's on his list of "favorite things")—the connections that popped out at me are never addressed.
Ultimately, what we're left with is a dose of vapid egoism, which may well be the point as the show's intended target is celebrity autobiography. But the Mark Sam Rosenthal lurking underneath seems more interesting and worth spending time with than the satirized over-the-top creation who remains the focus of this piece.
The ending—a karaoke version of "Stars" from Les Miserables—is just bewildering.
Todd Parmley, who also directed Rosenthal's previous FringeNYC show, the hit Blanche Survives Katrina in a FEMA Trailer Named Desire, does not provide much in the way of pacing or variety (save the ponderous trips to the mic). And Rosenthal's writing here, though arch and clever, is also very distancing and alienating. I had come with high expectations, given all the good buzz I'd heard about Blanche (which I didn't get a chance to see). I left feeling that I knew Rosenthal even less well than when I came in.