This review was updated on May 21, 2005>
Comedian-writer Sam Brown is undeniably talented, and his new one-man show at the Hudson Theater nails truths about drugs, mental illness and family problems. But these observations don’t register as strongly as they should: The narrative and presentation plunge ahead with such hysterical speed that they overshadow and obliterate many of his cleverest ideas.
Director Jon Shear, acclaimed for his Sundance indie “Urbania,” creates an effectively claustrophobic world — an isolation tank — in which Brown must come to terms with a lifetime of conflicts. Set designer Karyl Newman’s aluminum-foil floor and Robert Oriol’s lighting create realistic waterlike reflections. Oriol, who also provides the numerous inventive sound effects, adds torturously unnerving dripping noises to accentuate the atmosphere.
Brown, a series regular on Comedy Central’s “Dr. Katz,” is neurosis incarnate, a “king of needy” searching frantically for love and commenting that nearly all of his sexual encounters have been conducted to the accompaniment of massive drugs and alcohol.
His chief dysfunctional affair involves bipolar Sally, whom he meets as she sells Christmas tree ornaments in order to pay for her lithium. “I’m a sucker for a girl on medication,” he says, and the story charts their bitter battles.
Listening carefully, it’s possible to sort out Brown’s accurate observations about destructive romances, and it’s too bad his vocal changes don’t differentiate more clearly among personalities. This is strikingly true in the Sally segments, where his overly rapid line readings and nonstop body movement make it difficult to comprehend and savor crucial lines and to identify who is speaking.
The show’s highlight is Brown’s examination of the ADD drug Adderall, spoofing countless TV drug ads with discussion of side effects ranging from simple muscle spasms, headaches and itching to bleeding in the skull, catatonia, occasional lupus, pancreatic implosion and — most horrific of all, in Brown’s view — inability to ejaculate.
There’s a stark frankness to Brown’s tales of life in a rehab facility. He also sings “Get Happy,” with amusing special effects and lyrics (“Forget your troubles, come on, get happy, I’m gonna blow all my coke away … welcome to the 12-step way”) and in the process reveals a fine singing voice.
It’s a relief when “Neurotica” slows down and concentrates on Brown’s loss of his father to cancer. Quieter moments emphasize the comedian’s considerable acting ability. An episode involving a squirrel that Brown thinks may be his reincarnated dad is hokey, but the sentimental portions have a humanity that stabilizes the mood.
As it stands now, “Neurotica” is too much a ranting catalog of personal angst; it would gain immeasurably if Brown varies pacing and trusts his material.