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A CurtainUp Review

Brian Dykstra: Cornered & Alone …
By Jerry Weinstein

I'm sorry if I'm not very funny tonight, but I'm not a comedian, I'm Lenny Bruce.
Brian Dykstra
Brian Dykstra
(Photo: Gary Smoot)
Forty years ago this coming November, a three-judge panel in New York found Lenny Bruce guilty of obscenity.

Lenny Bruce would have saluted -- maybe even toked a joint with --Brian Dykstra. He would have high-fived his bug-eyed anger, somehow visible even from a chair wedged half-way between the back door and the bar. He would have laughed with tears caught in his throat as Dykstra recalled Rush Limbaugh's noblesse oblige defense of soldiers from the prisoner abuse scandal as nothing more than a "fraternity prank"; and quickly sobered hearing of the nickname Iraqis had for the Abu Ghraib photo of a hooded prisoner --"The Statue of Liberty." He would have knowingly nodded that the three authors of the Defense of Marriage Act have four divorces between them. And, given the recent change to Bruce's legal status -- Gov. Pataki posthumously pardoned him as a Christmas gift last year -- he would have co-signed Dykstra's promissory note that "the [imminent] Republican National Convention was shaping up to be a National Nuremberg Rally."

As the 2004 presidential campaign tightens, humor, in turns absurd and biting, has become as much as staple during this election cycle as red meat in an Atkins diet.

While Michael Moore has used his deft Gotcha! antics to disarm his opponents like so much satirical ju-jit-su, Bill Maher has often caustically exposed the high-mind hypocrisy of both left and right, leaving The Daily Show's Jon Stewart to trenchantly plumb the postering and pandering of the media in its coverage of all things political.

It's taken Dykstra to restate the obvious -- that a liberal ideology carries a proud heritage. With a painted backdrop of our Stars and Stripes (tattered and frayed perhaps not from flag burning but from wilful neglect), Dykstra is a card-carrying l-i-b-e-r-a-l who means to remind us that the appellation is far from a four-letter word. In fact, in the early stages of the show Dykstra peeled off two witticisms from Webster's regarding liberal and conservative just to remind us that liberal does indeed still mean "tolerant" and "embracing of social change," while conservative denotes "restrained in style," and "tending to oppose change." As the Republicans said throughout the recent Democratic convention, "Come out, come out Michael Dukakis, wherever you are." Except this evening, it wasn't meant tauntingly.

Over time it becomes clear that Dykstra is a lifer, at one point screaming upwards as if the Supreme Court were truly based on high, "Hey Clarence… You're BLACK!"

Apart from Dave Chappelle's Black Bush skit -- how the War on Terrorism might have gone had Bush and Blair been men of color -- and the occasional Al Franken and/or Jeanine Garofolo invective on the new Air America radio network, every left of center comedian apart from our host shoots with his or her safety on. But perhaps that's not the best metaphor since Dykstra's proud to assay about the need for greater gun control.

Dykstra even reworks that mainstay joke of all standup, reimaging the queue for the Afterlife as a fundamentalist MeetUp at the Pearly Gates. Here the widow of an Altzheimered husband fumes against God for her unanswered prayers. The Almighty counters, "But I kept sending you those miracle cells and you didn't pay attention." It's a wry punchline, one tailor-made for Nancy Reagan. And speaking of "Just Say No," don't get Dykstra started on the Partnership for a Drug Free America and their 'this is your brain on drugs' -- yolked ads funded by… the pharmaceutical industry. It's his wizened take that they want their profit margins intact and our addictions sated only by Rx.

More than mid-way into the show Dykstra announced an impromptu intermission. What followed was, perhaps, the most subversive moment of the evening.

Offhandedly he said that he had "printed this thing off the Internet." The audience could decide whether or not to use the facilities, have another pull from a longneck, or take a listen.

There, in an oversold venue mocking fire safety rules, almost palpable to the touch was an audience brought to the threshold of anger and futility. In a week of heightened terror threats coupled with the pre-trial coverage of Lindie England and her role during the prisoner abuse scandal, it became apparent that these words, more current than that morning's headlines, more chilling than that weekend's M. Night Shyamalan film, were a Rorschach of our compact between society and citizen -- the Bill of Rights.

Did I say subversive moment? I meant patriotic.

Brian Dykstra: Cornered & Alone …
Written and Performed by Brian Dykstra
Directed by Margarett Perry
Set Design: Maruti Evans
Costume Design: Jennifer R. Halpern
Sound Design: Ken Hypes
Lighting Design: Thom Weaver
Running time: : 90 minutes with one 15 minute intermission
Access Theater at The Triad, 158 West 72nd Street 212-352-3101
From 8/03/04; opening 8/12/04.
August 12, Tuesdays and Thursdays at 9 PM
Ticket prices: $25.00 Reviewed by Jerry Weinstein based on August 5, 9pm performance.
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