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Henry Rollins Caught in the Zipper

Ordinarily, when an angry young man isn't so young anymore, he ends up morphing into a crotchety old geezer. In this limited engagement at an off-the-beaten-path Hell's Kitchen theater, Henry Rollins proved himself capable of avoiding that pitfall by putting put forth a new paradigm of sorts -- a social satirist with fists of steel.

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.

Henry Rollins Caught in the Zipper

Zipper Theater, New York City; 199 seats; $35

Production: Presented inhouse. Opened March 22, 2005; reviewed March 23; runs through April 2.

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