Spoleto 2009 » Comedy

The Bitter Poet capably leads us through the dark heart of relationships

Big Apple balladeer chronicles his dating failures

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Spare some pity for the Bitter Poet, a singing single New Yorker who continually curses himself for letting his soulmate candidates slip away. He's pathetically girl hungry, and he knows it — he has proof in the form of a trail of broken relationships, which he shares with us in the form of narrative, poetry, and song.

Kevin Draine plays the Bitter Poet to the hilt in his solo show at the American Theater's Stars bar. There are more songs than straight poetry, covering such themes as unrequited love, coffee shop come-ons, strippers with dirty hair, and middle class dreams of success. Draine is on the mark with his observations of human life and the pain we put ourselves through as we criticize our base instincts. And he's as funny as he is astute.

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The show opens with the Poet short of breath, full of energy, ready to impart his wisdom. He wears leather pants and a frilly red shirt with the cuffs unbuttoned, showing off his milk-pale forearms. His shoes are also blood red, the color of the heart, the color of Valentine's Day. His shirt keeps falling open, revealing his navel. This is a man ready to bare his soul to the world.

"I wanna tell you a story," he begins. That story introduces him as an odist on a mission: to hook up with beautiful women. The story leads into a song that features Miss Sparkle Penny, a girl who leaves glitter wherever she goes. By simultaneously idolizing women and demonizing himself as a lonely skirt chaser, Draine gets us to laugh at the ironies of dating as well as the seedier parts of the male psyche. The Bitter Poet spends a lot of time in strip clubs, hating himself and loving the lapdances.

This may sound dark, but Draine has found a good balance between light-heartedness and self-effacement. The performer maintains a rapport with his audience with an engaging we've-all-been-there smile. It doesn't hurt that he looks like Mark Wahlberg in a lounge outfit.

Parallels have been made with Lou Reed, and we can see why. Draine strums his guitar in lieu of playing full tunes. He speaks (or shouts) a lot of his lyrics. Some of them are like poems set to electric guitar. But the method of delivery isn't that important; it's those moments where you nod and think, "Yes, that's exactly how I feel when I'm in an empty relationship that I know won't last."

There's no real moral to the Poet's story and not much of a conclusion either. At 45 minutes and change, this show could do with a longer, stronger wrap. But that's our only complaint: we were left wanting more. —Nick Smith

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