What happened to solo shows in which actors portraying characters just told their stories, fictional or otherwise? A spate of recent L.A. offerings seems insistent on serving as public self-analysis, an often tedious trend. And yet, if that's where an author-performer is comfortable, why not just come right out and say it? Sam Brown certainly has in setting his 75-minute, senses-assaulting act within the confines of an isolation tank.
Claustrophobia gives way rather quickly to a rapid-fire regaling of his past. Recounting the horrors of living with a girlfriend who suffers bipolar mental problems makes up a great deal of his material. The story of their many attempts at counseling, though funny at times, begins to wear thin as one wonders just how big a schlemiel Brown must have been to put up with such abuse for so long. On the other hand, the touching sections detailing his family are a welcome respite from the machine gun–like, sometimes garbled delivery he slips into. His father's early death obviously had a major impact on him. This is the revelatory information that lifts his material above the Robin Williams form of scattershot comedy, which is not to say that some of his stuff isn't wickedly hilarious. At one point, Brown skillfully portrays a collection of fellow rehab patients and then reads off an outrageous list of drug-related side effects such as bone rash, pancreatic implosion, and face apnea.
Also to his credit, Brown has had the good sense to not direct himself; so often the lack of a third eye leads to self-indulgence. Director Jon Shear, credited as well for additional material, keeps things focused for the most part. Choreographing a verbal dance between Brown and lighting- and sound designer Robert Oriol must have been no small feat. Oriol provides crisp, perfectly executed design elements, including a virtual underscoring of effects and perfectly chosen song snippets.
Karyl Newman's use of suspended mirror panels to the sides and upstage of an armless dental office–style recliner maintains Brown's position as the center of attention even as he propels himself around this tiny stage.
"Neurotica," presented by Commotion Pictures at the Hudson Guild Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Wed.-Sat. 8 p.m. Apr. 29-May 28. $15. (323) 960-7861.