Ordinarily, when an angry young man isn’t so young anymore, he ends up morphing into a crotchety old geezer — a role that’s significantly more difficult for an audience to embrace. In this limited engagement at an off-the-beaten-path Hell’s Kitchen theater, Henry Rollins, now well-ensconced in his mid-40s, proved himself capable of avoiding that pitfall by putting put forth a new paradigm of sorts — a social satirist with fists of steel.
Like much of Rollins’ work, “Caught in the Zipper” carries with it a sense of without-a-net improvisation, even though he’s actually honed every passage. Only a few vestiges of his last spoken-word perf — captured on the “Shock and Awe My Ass” video — remain; the freshness of the material brings an extra edge to the notoriously caffeinated Rollins’ already edgy demeanor.
While the two-hour-plus perf is — as is his wont — studded with a surfeit of political material, Rollins keeps the doctrinaire posturing to a minimum, tilting at windmills at both ends of the two-party power structure while waxing almost Bob Hope-ish about his time spent performing for troops around the globe.
The most welcome addition to Rollins’ repertoire is a willingness to admit that, at times, he’s just as absurd as the other figures he skewers — a self-awareness that was often absent in his earlier, more rant-filled monologues.
That’s got a lot to do, of course, with his evolution from moonlighting punk rocker to virtual cottage industry, a journey he manages to dissect without too many of the inside baseball references that often accompany such travelogues. Along the way, he’s also shed a good bit of the increasingly constricting outsider mufti without losing sight of the ridiculousness inherent in, say, crossing paths with William Shatner.
Such belly laughs — and there are quite a few — are ideal leavening for a series of tales that range from rueful to indignant in their dissection of post-9/11 America. Rollins delivers those without telegraphing his punchlines, a welcome respite from modern-day activist performers who are utterly unapologetic in preaching to the choir.
Even more significantly, Rollins also maintains a tone of cockeyed optimism, a sort of postmillennial spin on Will Rogers’ world view — albeit one with considerably more grit embedded within. For that reason alone, it was possible to leave the theater both thoughtful and renewed, rather than simply ticked off.