Aisle Seat

The Story of My Life
San Francisco is blessed with some extraordinary solo performers: Sara Felder (Beyond Brooklyn), Marga Gomez (A Line Around the Block), Josh Kornbluth (Pumping Copy), Roger Guenveur Smith (A Huey P. Newton Story), among others. Unfortunately, because the city is solo-performer friendly, every egotist with a ball point pen thinks that she or he should jump onstage with the story of her or his life. Wrong! I am going to do the performer I saw on Dec. 3 a great service and not mention his name or the show he is currently foisting upon our hapless citizenry. I will say that during what might have been the longest hour of my life, I had plenty of time (all the time when I was not laughing) to think.

This unnamed show would have been better as an essay, perhaps for his high school alumni magazine. It is even possible that, had the fellow used an actual actor, rather than himself, as the performer, a laugh or two might have been wrung from the leaden text. The real problem is that this pseudo-performer, this faux-writer has no idea how to structure a monologue. A good monologue has within it the richness, the texture, the emotional punch of a three-act play.

I would support a law protecting spectators from the performance-impaired (after last week, I might support the death penalty). In the absence of such, we need a place where the solo-inclined could learn to write a good monologue.

Thanks to Michael Kearns, now there is such a place. Kearns is an actor who makes the monologue an intense exploration of the human condition. In intimacies, more intimacies, and ROCK, all of which he staged at Josie's and the Eureka, Kearns the actor performed the extraordinary words of Kearns the writer. Owing to his consummate skill as both, it was unforgettable theater.

Now Kearns' monologues have been published in an astonishing collection: T-Cells & Sympathy: Monologues in the Age of AIDS. I can tell you that they read as powerfully as they play. Kearns gives each character her or his own voice, history, and way of looking at the world; his characters are not limited to gay white men. Kearns says in the introduction: “The questionable political correctness of a white actor playing an African-American or a hearing actor playing a deaf character or a man playing a woman is not only deliberately controversial, it has become my modus operandi.” Kearns takes enormous risks that pay off hugely.

So, Mr. Unnamed Soloist, buy this book, read it, and learn from a great writer how to write for the theater. As for the rest of you, buy this book for the pleasure it will give you. T-Cells & Sympathy: Monologues in the Age of AIDS (Heinemann, 1995) is available at A Different Light bookstore in S.F.

By Deborah Peifer

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