It took me more than two-thirds of the 100-minute running time of John Fugelsang's monologue All the Wrong Reasons to accept that I wasn't watching a one-man version of A Chorus Line. After all, the set is a stripped-down void with a demarcating line, the overarching theme is what was done for love, and the lead moves across the stage in a series of leaps, jazz squares, and pliés. But in Fugelsang's one-hander, the frenetic movement isn't the main event; it's a decoy -- an evasion masquerading as high-energy engagement -- through which the performer tries to outrace the impact of genuine introspection. It is an unexpected victory that Fugelsang ultimately falters, allowing authenticity to overtake him.
Fugelsang is something of a bizarro Troy McClure. You may have forgotten him from such "TV prompter monkey work" as co-hosting the John McEnroe CNBC talkfest and the post-Bob Saget America's Funniest Home Videos.
As its subtitle promises, All the Wrong Reasons is "a true story of neo-Nazis, drug smuggling, and undying love." It's the tale of how Fugelsang came to marry his longtime girlfriend -- under pressure from his ex-nun mother, who exploits the illness of his father, an ex-Franciscan brother. The show is built around two main set pieces, both of which appear in its subtitle and ring logically false.
It's difficult to believe that Fugelsang -- a poised television vet -- was so enraged by the standard talk-show muttering of absurdities that he lost it on the air with former KKK grand wizard (and, yes, neo-Nazi) David Duke. Even harder to believe is that Fugelsang tried to smuggle marijuana through an airport for the sake of a friend because good pot can't be found in New York, only in L.A. (Oh yeah, and the friend is ill -- with H.I.V.)
Both stories seem calibrated to bathe Fugelsang in audience sympathy, and it's easy to withhold that sought-after sympathy as long as his impressions of family remain so ridiculous and his emotionality so disingenuously played at, making it feel as if Fugelsang is an understudy enacting the story of his own life. Yet the writing -- manipulative though it may be -- is sneaky good, brimming with quality one-liners and intelligent asides ("I grew up admiring Jesus the way any guy would admire Mom's first husband").
And then there's the drug-smuggling story, which -- as absurd as it may be -- lands with unexpected grace as Fugelsang lets go of unnecessary motion and unconvincing emotion. In those moments of unstudied vulnerability, All the Wrong Reasons succeeds -- for the right ones.
Presented by and at New York Theatre Workshop,
79 E. Fourth St., NYC.
April 15-May 6. Tue., 7 p.m.; Wed.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 and 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 and 7 p.m.
(212) 239-6200 or (800) 432-7250 or www.telecharge.com.