Why Not Me
nytheatre.com review by Shelley Molad
August 16, 2013
A scene from Why Not Me
This afternoon, I attended my first FringeNYC show of the season: a one woman show called Why Not Me: Love, Cancer & Jack White. When I arrived at 45 Bleecker street, I was greeted by the FringeNYC staff wearing Neon-yellow traffic vests, and there was a bit of confusion as to which show I was headed, as the venue housed multiple shows.
Once I was pointed in the right direction, down under to a space known as Subculture Arts Underground, I walked into a seated audience listening to a handsome young Black man strumming his guitar on the corner of the stage. The man, known as Briar Rabbit, continued playing his guitar and singing sweet soulful tunes as the audience trickled in, and, for a brief moment, I thought I was at the wrong show. The atmosphere was unlike any other solo show I have attended thus far, which usually begin with a familiar bare stage that holds the anticipation of a solo performer about to bare his or her soul.
Shortly after, a woman appeared on stage, a slender and attractive brunette who also had a guitar and looked nothing like the picture of the woman on my press packet, and I really thought I was at the wrong show. I glanced at my program and soon realized that this woman, whose name we learn is Alyson, was the show's director. The unanticipated appearance by Alyson Lyon turned out to be a sort of opening act to Jen's show, though the relevance of this segment was unclear to me. Alyson shares with us a funny but drawn out story about how she attempted to get in touch with her lifelong crush, actor Matt Dillon, via a song she wrote about him and posted to YouTube. The relentless pursuit of something unattainable and the unnecessary despair that follows seemed to introduce a theme that runs through Jen's show, as Jen shares her disappointment trying to make it as an actor in Los Angeles; however, it wasn't until Jen took over the stage, beside the unobtrusive and complimentary Briar Rabbit peacefully strumming his guitar beside her, that I really became engaged, as she shared her disappointments with LA, her decision to move back to her hometown near Chicago, followed by a series of unexpected family deaths and illnesses.
In contrast to Alyson's yoga-toned frame with a made-for-camera face, Jen appears in striking contrast--an imperfect figure dressed in all black with a cheap-looking white fur coat, a red girly headband, and a large slurpy-style soft drink in hand. Once she opens her mouth, Jen is immediately likable and funny. At times a powerhouse performer and a demonstrably trained stage actor, for the most part, Jen is unabashedly unpolished, frank and decidedly human as she begins her story within the confines of the festival--there is a memorable moment when Jen walks off stage to grab her chair announcing very matter-of-factly, "I'll be right back to get my props because FringeNYC makes you do everything yourself." The line deserved its laughs. And there were many more of them, despite the fact that the show's main topics are death, cancer, more cancer, and death. The heavy subject matter coupled with Jen's humor make for an enjoyable storytelling experience. I can't say there was a moment when I was not drawn in. Jen allows for banter here and there with the audience and with Briar Rabbit and, well into the show, we feel like we could be sitting next to Jen, chatting away at a bar. Jen's relationship with the audience is probably the strongest element of this show and one that I think is crucial for the success of a solo show. At one point Jen asked if anyone had been to the Grand Canyon. I raised my hand. She asked me what I thought of it, and when I replied, "It was beautiful," she thanked me for answering with the perfect word for her seg-way about how much she detested dragging her dying mother to see the Grand Canyon, and she followed with, "You're hired!" Jen talks about her time working as Nicholas Cage's office manager, a job she took when her model friend recommended it to her because she was too busy becoming a famous model. Jen does a great impression of "Nick," as she refers to him when he frequently calls her to ask rudimentary questions such as, "Hey Jen, It's me Nick, what's my phone number?" There is a lively segment where Jen goes into a brief obsession she had with Jack White, and there is a nice use of lights to imply a dreamlike concert, and Jen jumps in and out of the audience with ease.
As the show neared its end, I started to feel that there was a life lesson coming along, as Jen urged us to follow our dreams, as her mother urged her to do before she died of cancer, which has been manifested in Jen's performing of this show. I feared the show would end on this somewhat cliched "This how I got here, and you can do it too!" note, but luckily Jen left us with one last impressionable airplane story and disappeared off stage almost suddenly, leaving me to ponder about the transience of life's precious moments in the wake of so much loss.