nytheatre.com review by Robin Reed
January 20, 2007
Power lies in simplicity.
Allen Johnson's Another You is the single most powerful thing I've seen on stage in years. The big picture of the show is that of a man exploring his less-than-traditional relationship with sex, partly as the result of an abusive childhood. It is a hard-hitting story, but the power comes not from the shock value of abuse, but rather from the simple way in which the teller conveys his story.
The details (raped by dad, hit by mom, mildly obsessed as an adult with the power of violence) are less important than how they're brought out. Allen Johnson is a storyteller, a deft storyteller with a keen eye and an honesty so brutal I was literally brought to tears. Is it based on his actual life? I don't know. It didn't matter.
As the lone performer in the piece, Johnson is so present that it quickly becomes less like watching an actor on stage and more like being told a story by a stranger at a bar after one too many beers. His story is harsh and sad, raw and unnerving, but his matter-of-fact, nearly nonchalant delivery makes it clear that the concept of being a victim never crosses his mind. He's not asking for pity. He's trying to figure himself out, while constantly intensely aware of the world around him.
The day I saw the play, there was a beautiful moment that I can't imagine was planned (and if it was, it was yet another testament to Johnson's skill). Johnson recounts a childhood friend, a special friend he made at nursery school, with whom he shared naptime. At four years old, the girl was appropriately un-self conscious and picked her nose while they chatted and avoided napping. As Johnson spoke about her, lying on the stage floor, he drew a small heart on the ground with a wet finger. Catching this moment was like catching a glimpse of a very personal character trait. It was genuine and sweet.
The production values of the piece are as sharp as the performer. A one-man show could easily get lost in a space as vast as the Public's Shiva Theatre. But director Sean Ryan and a smart lighting design by Michael Hayes White keep the physical life of the show contained in a comparatively small space. Sound designer Justin Gerardy lends a visceral aural body that subtly shapes the show. All of these physical elements create a solid foundation on which Johnson's raw and electric energy becomes palpable.
Johnson tells us that his father was an amazing storyteller, who told "simple, well-observed stories." I'm not sure if it could be considered genetic, but Allen Johnson tells stories in that same way, simple yet passionate, well-observed and intoxicating. In this time of superficiality and selling out in the world and especially in New York, it is quite moving to see someone as open, uninhibited and, pardon what has become a cliché, real as Allen Johnson on stage. This is one performance that should absolutely not be missed.