All the Wrong Reasons
nytheatre.com review by Michael Criscuolo
April 12, 2007
Like the good Catholic boy he is, John Fugelsang goes to confession in his gloriously entertaining new solo show, All the Wrong Reasons. Of course, he wouldn't say he's a good Catholic boy anymore, he'd probably say he was a "recovering" one, which is appropriate considering his background: the child of an ex-nun from the South and a former Franciscan brother from Brooklyn, Fugelsang was raised with his share of guilt ("My mother is very comfortable with bleakness," he remarks at one point). He was born out of their broken vows of chastity, and grew up with a nagging sensation that God Himself was telling Fugelsang, "Kid, you're not supposed to be here." All the Wrong Reasons is Fugelsang's riotous and inspirational attempt to come to terms with his upbringing, his parents, and his skewed existential outlook, taking him on a precarious journey that includes a potential airport drug bust and sexually propositioning a KKK member on television.
Not the kind of behavior you'd expect from someone with such a strong religious background. But, in order for every rebellion to be meaningful (and possibly successful), there must be a fall from grace, and Fugelsang charts his in All the Wrong Reasons. A year after junking a lucrative television career as a "prompter monkey" for VH1 and America's Funniest Home Videos to become a serious artist, he finds himself in dire financial straits ("...I'm one rent check away from selling bone marrow on Craig's List"). His father is suffering from major heart disease, and it's only a matter of time before he succumbs. Fugelsang's mother decides this is the perfect time to guilt him into marrying his fiancée of 11 years ("I just thought I'd raise an innocent hypothetical since your father is dying in the next room."). But Fugelsang remains steadfast about not giving into her emotional blackmail.
You see, his ability to be strong has failed him before—like the time he tried to bait David Duke, an ex-grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, with a tongue-in-cheek sexual proposition while both men were guests on Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher. And, it may fail him again as he tries to smuggle some medical marijuana through Orlando International Airport for a sick friend in New York.
All the Wrong Reasons has a lot going for it: a charismatic leading man, a sharp eye for detail, and a ragingly irreverent sense of humor. Fugelsang is a likable and energetic performer with great comic timing, an admirable amount of shamelessness, and an enviable lack of fear. One can't help rooting for him. His acute sense of his characters and their singularities serves him well. Whether he's calling his father "the last Jedi of Flatbush," telling us that Jesus is "Mom's first husband," or describing marriage as "the best gift you could give your parents' friends," Fugelsang gives the audience a vivid, funny, idiosyncratic glimpse into his world.
All the Wrong Reasons is effectively touching in places, as well, like when Fugelsang ends a section covering the reasons why his fiancée is terrific with this unexpectedly moving thought: "How could I marry someone I loved that much?" Or when he talks at length about his parents' courtship and tells us that his father walked away from the church "because love is better than religion." There is a big romantic heart underneath Fugelsang's smart-aleck snark.
Director Pam MacKinnon emphasizes Fugelsang's strength as a storyteller (and his background as a stand-up comic) and gives him plenty of artistic elbow room, while designers Kaye Voyce and Mark Barton fall in line behind her. They all augment him nicely without taking any attention away from him.
All the Wrong Reasons is a joyous surprise, a tour-de-force showing by a talented writer and performer with an important message to convey: that what you need to heal your heart may already be inside you. Namaste, word, and amen, brother.