In his staged memoir “Falling Off Broadway,” David Black leads the audience through his growing up and careers as an opera singer, Broadway producer and painter. With his gentle charm and diminutive voice, the 70-something Black shares the victo-ries and failures of his past with a light-hearted joie de vivre, drawing in his audience like a storyteller in a roomful of children. Projected illustrations and quaint audio touches help evoke events and places as the action moves from city to city, career to career, room to room.
Aside from the occasional attentions of his father, who is having an affair with his secretary, and his mother, who either ignores or discour-ages him, Black’s childhood memories are as a solitary and imaginative young boy. “Wherever I go, the camera is following me. When I go to the grocery store I say to myself, ‘This is the grocery store scene.’ When I go home I say to myself, ‘This is the scene where David goes home.’ ”
He attends the Ethical Culture School in Manhattan, puts on shows for his grandfather, works as an extra at the Metropolitan Opera, learns to play the violin and eventually goes to Harvard. At Harvard, he falls in love and becomes engaged, eventually moving to Italy with his wife to pursue opera singing.
Black delivers the linear, poetic narrative like a Mr. Rogers with flare, moving about the stage (designed as a study or office) as he com-fortably puts on yet another hat in his many career pit stops.
Five years later and back in America, his marriage over and his opera career nonexistent, Black stumbles into Broadway producing on a tip from his psychiatrist. Black chronicles his attempts as a fledgling producer: raising money, tapping stars, acquiring rights, staging new works and revivals, waiting for reviews and deciding whether to close a show or keep it running.
The theatrical projects highlighted yield more monetary loss than gain and more cause for ego check than inflation. But it seems to be Black’s style to sneak in or skip over his greatest successes (winning Tony Awards, writing a bestselling book for actors) and to draw out the failures. After all, who really wants to watch a man act out his own life scoring one home run after another?
The account becomes valuable: Watching Black’s career trajectory serves as a lesson in process, in perceived failures leading to alternate successes and in keeping an open mind and a light attitude.
There is a mild detachment in the way Black relays the facts of his life without reflecting on them. When he falls into a deep depression after a fifth consecutive failure, there is no self-examination shown. For someone so involved with therapy, there is a striking disconnect between the retelling of pain and its actual effect, even considering the passing of time. On one hand this lack of rumination in the work cre-ates room for the viewer, but it also risks leaving a deficient impact; if Black can so easily remove himself from his struggles, what stops the audience from doing the same?
When Black finally emerges from depression, he sends out a self-published book with illustrations to his friends called, “What Happened When David’s Show Closed.” An art dealer contacts Black after seeing his drawings at someone’s house and his career as a painter is launched. From a dark place, another new beginning for Black is born.
The play ends as it began: “On Sunday mornings my mother told me to tiptoe around the house because my father was working on his talk. Then she takes me to hear my father speak at the Ethical Culture Society. We sit in a wooden pew upholstered in green velvet.”
The circular ending to the narration highlights the cyclical nature of life and the ubiquitous truth that, no matter our age or what we achieve, the impact of childhood and family always looms largest.