Visit nytheater now, NYTE's new site about indie theater in NYC, for in-depth coverage of new American plays.

Check out Indie Theater Now, NYTE's digital theater library, to discover and explore new American plays for study, production, audition material, and more.

Loading

The Amish Guide to Fucking

nytheatre.com review by Robert Weinstein
December 9, 2010

The Amish Guide to Fucking (AGTF), Ken Braunohler’s one-man show playing at the Peoples Improv Theatre, begins at an Apple Store where our hero has gone to wreak some good ole fashioned havoc on a Wikipedia page. (He’s doing it there because Wikipedia has blocked his home computer from the site. To give you a sense of why: Did you know that parakeets are breast fed until the age of 5? Neither did anyone else until Braunohler created the factoid and added it to Wikipedia’s Parakeet page.)

On a bathroom break, he accidently walks into an occupied stall and discovers the seated occupant doing his business on the porcelain throne. The man is shirtless and reading a book with what is described as a “beatific” smile on his face. Braunohler excuses himself but what could have passed as a simple, innocuous (albeit embarrassing) incident sparks his curiosity: What was with that smile?  How did the man get it? And why shirtless? How did the man arrive at shirtless as the most comfortable way to do his business?  Braunohler wants to know what’s behind that man’s smile. He seems to hanker after that state of mind.

These questions stick in his mind when he and his girlfriend of thirteen years decide, in the spirit of Rumspringa—the Amish ritual in which teenagers are encouraged to experience the secular world—to split for thirty days. Neither he nor his girlfriend is Amish but they are stuck as a couple and both see it as an opportunity to gain perspective on their relationship (maybe; more on this in a moment) and have sex with someone other than each other.

AGTF follows Braunohler as the thirty days turn into forever and chronicles the ways in which the dissolution of his relationship effect his self-image and professional life, the latter involving an audition, a faked knowledge of German, some incredibly bad advice from a casting director, and Sacha Baron Cohen.

Braunohler is a comfortable and welcoming stage presence. He performs like an accomplished standup comic and has a playful sense of the absurd which provides a unique and honest perspective on life among the newly single. And he spares no one. He describes his body as that of an overgrown toddler (“no muscle mass”); he is ruthless when it comes to the dating pool (“I was like a kid in a candy store, if all the candy has STDs. It’s a terrible candy store.”); and he discovers an ugly truth that anyone can get laid in New York as long as they’re willing to put in the work, i.e., hanging out in bars until closing time at which time everyone will pair off. He’s cocky but never loses sight of the ridiculousness of his actions or his situation. He’s extremely clever with a pickup line but you still get the sense he doesn’t consider himself much of a catch.

The show’s hilarious. It’s well-paced, simply staged and skillfully builds to its climax, the aforementioned Sacha Baron Cohen audition in which he angers the movie star during an improvisation. It’s unfortunate then that the show deflates moments after this climax when Braunohler poses the penultimate question: “How did this experience change me?” His answer? “It didn’t.” And he didn’t seem to mind that it didn’t. This shocked me; not because I expect everyone to learn something from every experience but because in one single moment it threw into relief everything his comedy had covered up: from a purely theatrical standpoint, it made me wonder why the beatific smile of the shirtless man on the toilet was so important. But it also made me realize that I never quite knew what was wrong with his and his girlfriend’s relationship at the onset.

This answer to the penultimate question, and his seeming nonchalance, transformed the show from a purposeful journey into a prolonged, enjoyable set of standup comedy. The experience was a confusing one:  It’s a funny show, the packed audience—myself included—laughed throughout. But I left the theatre wanting more from his comedy.