The Love Inside
John Brennan takes it with him in his solo show
Maybe it had something to do with the fact that the audience was well oiled, but the crowd at the American Theater was hooting, guffawing, and downright screaming with laughter at the sold-out premiere of John Brennan’s solo show The Banana Monologues. It may not have the sophistication of The Constant Wife or the profundity of Mahagonny, but the audience was just as solidly entertained.
Brennan plays Gus, who describes himself as “a poor man’s Patrick Swayze” (cue the Righteous Bothers song from Ghost, which plays periodically as he strikes Swayze-esque poses). Gus relates the story of his four-and-a-half year relationship with his ex-girlfriend Alexis. The one constant in their relationship, he says, was amazing sex. As the relationship progresses, personality differences, expectations, and geographical distance make it apparent that they just aren’t right for each other.
Banana Monologues, co-written by Brennan and Jason Cooper, is incredibly, successfully filmic, considering there’s just one person to dip in and out of the past, and to pull off theatrical cut-aways to random characters thrown in for a joke (think The Young Ones, where a remark would suddenly lead to a leftover hamburger in the fridge making a one-liner). Brennan’s reminiscent of a young Robin Williams in the way he quickly moves from one character to another in a new scenario with no exposition — it’s up to you to keep up.
Among other roles, Brennan takes on Alexis, as well as her meddling friend Darby (“the guy that’s in the perfect position to get pity pussy”), and Sergeant Johnson (Gus’ focused penis), who after getting a chastising from Gus for being rude, says “What do you expect? I’m a dick.”
Banana is peppered with enough local jokes to make natives feel important and in on it. The references feel a little gratuitous, like a singer shouting the name of the city he’s playing in.
“Gus Wiederman doesn’t play love games!” Gus declares, and what’s particularly funny about the statement is that it follows a breakdown of exactly how Gus is going to show Alexis that he won’t fall for one of her games. Banana, while perhaps not containing the strongest of female characters, is actually pretty fair in showcasing both sexes’ foibles, and assures its criticism of female behavior is never mean-spirited or sexist. Brennan credits this in no small part to his director Mary Cimino, whose feminine touch helped shape this play into a terrific piece of work that isn’t just a collection of gender-specific moments: “this bit’s for the guys; this bit’s for the girls.” There’s a good balance throughout, to where the men are engrossed in the love story and the women are cracking up at the Scarface reenactment.
In fact, it seems just as many women identified with the piece as men. When Gus — as Alexis — says in a break-up scene, “It wasn’t supposed to happen like this,” a woman in the audience said in a rather sad tone, “it never is.” Another, leaving the show, had her hand to her cheek in embarrassment, saying, “It made me wonder if I ever treated anybody like that!”
The ending feels a little weak, going from a heartfelt moment to an explanation of why the show was created to a (albeit funny) Swayze dance. It feels rushed after such an investment into Gus’ story. But even a slightly disappointing ending can’t detract too much from an overall excellent bang-for-your-buck experience.
The Banana Monologues • Piccolo Spoleto’s Piccolo Fringe • (1 hr) • $15 • June 2, 8, 9 at 9 p.m. • Stars at The American Theater • 446 King St. • 554-6060