Review: ‘Pounding Nails in the Floor with My Forehead’

Here's Eric Bogosian, terrorizing subway riders, coddling his inner baby, consuming massive amounts of drugs and alcohol, grilling steaks by the pool for his third wife and their kids Jeremy and Genevieve, confessing that he "feels like a human being trapped in a man's body." This shtick is never less than mesmerizing -- he's a performer you simply cannot turn away from -- but it's familiar shtick nonetheless.

Here’s Eric Bogosian, terrorizing subway riders, coddling his inner baby, consuming massive amounts of drugs and alcohol, grilling steaks by the pool for his third wife and their kids Jeremy and Genevieve, confessing that he “feels like a human being trapped in a man’s body.” This shtick is never less than mesmerizing — he’s a performer you simply cannot turn away from — but it’s familiar shtick nonetheless.

Bogosian, whose play “subUrbia” goes up at Lincoln Center Theater in April, is a cosmic slummer returning to the scenes of the same crimes for well over a decade. Wiry, gruff and haunted-looking, he does drug dealers, sex fiends, drug-dealing sex fiends and all sorts of high-living lowlifes like nobody’s business (though he’s got competition lately from John Leguizamo).

To this roster of familiar characters he’s added sendups of the men’s movement, suburban liberalism and performance-artist wannabees hustling him for a break or at least his agent’s phone number.

Some of this material was introduced in Bogosian’s “Dog Show” at Lincoln Center’s “Serious Fun!” festival in July 1992, including the already dated inner baby bit and a routine (since refined) in which he harangues the audience before seguing into obsequiousness along the lines of “people are special.”

Even more dated are the new riffs on old themes, as in the quadruple-X-rated monologue about a dealer regaling a prospective yuppie client with tales of the great sex he’s had with the aid of pot, coke, beer and, almost as an afterthought, his girlfriend.

Bogosian knows these environs well, and he’s willing to take a shot or two at himself, but that’s different from the kind of redemption these monologues require to lift them above the plateau of parody he’s been stuck on for too long.

Although the production values for “Pounding” are superb — a simple but resonant backstage set from John Arnone, knowingly lit by Jan Kroeze — director Jo Bonney hasn’t helped Bogosian cut or shape these disparate pieces into a compelling whole. And she hasn’t prodded him in much of a new direction.

“I’m your worst nightmare,” Bogosian growls near the beginning of this 90 -minute roller-coaster ride, “an exploding supernova of negative energy.” That’s what he was, sort of, in 1982. It’s 1994, babe.

Pounding Nails in the Floor with My Forehead

Minetta Lane Theater, New York; 399 seats; $37.50 top

Production

A Frederick Zollo, Nick Paleologos, Ron Kastner and Randy Finch presentation of monologues in one act written and performed by Eric Bogosian. Directed by Jo Bonney.

Creative

Set, John Arnone; lighting, Jan Kroeze; sound, Raymond D. Schilke; production stage manager, Robbie Young. Opened Feb. 3, 1994, reviewed Feb. 1. (Los Angeles production reviewed Nov. 5, 1993.)
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