The sounds of swank fill the room as you settle in for an hour of Roman Blanco (Joe Dungan), the self-styled "most romantic man in the world." Do not be fooled. The seat belt, she must be fastened. The ride, she will be bumpy. Roman, as it turns out, is not here to make you feel comfortable at all. On the surface the piece is yet another one-man show about relentless self-examination. While this is irritating in shows about real people, with fictional characters it's another thing entirely. Stefan Marks ups the ante by having written 30 scenes, only 15 of which are performed on any given night.
Blanco is a performer of severely limited capabilities. He styles himself as a song-and-dance man, but his dancing is more akin to posing, and his singing can be accomplished only with headphones on, so disenchanted is he with his own voice. He co-stars with a bottle of wine. It's the kind of humanity with which you can't help but identify. This is not, however, a performer endlessly gazing at the navel of his performance for the benefit of the navel-gazing performers watching him perform. This is closer to taking a male ego and dissecting it into its manifold parts and letting 15 of the raw, quivering segments speak. A lot of it is funny, a fair bit is tender, and the odd segment is horrifying.
Dungan is quite the trouper. I saw him on opening night with a house full of friends, in which he shone, and then the following week with an audience that looked for proof, and he won them over as well. He has created a character with the look of a young, slim Don Corleone and the social sensibilities of Niles Crane. While Roman Blanco is not the swooniest of men, he has a kind of oily quality that makes us think we'd fall for him but hate ourselves later. While I can't promise that you'll see it, he has a mesmerizing bit of juggling on the roster. At one point he also asks the audience if they'd rather watch him perform "Moon River" or "Baby Got Back." I don't have to tell you which wins the toss, and it's something to witness.
Marks lives a bit of a director's dream by sitting in the booth and not only running the lights but also dictating the order and content of the show. He has also built in the gimmick of having Blanco begin a stopwatch at the top of the show. When the clock and the wine bottle are finished, so is the evening. It goes by quickly, but it's not soon forgotten.