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Single White Male

Anxiety, Writer's Block, Fidelity, Etc.--He's 25 Going On 26

By Geoffrey Himes | Posted 1/9/2008

Now What?

By Josh Lefkowitz

At Center Stage through Jan. 20

At one point in Now What? Josh Lefkowitz mimes sitting at the computer in his Brooklyn, N.Y., apartment, trying to write his next theater piece. He's in anguish as only a 25-year-old can be, for the words aren't coming, his girlfriend, Anika, is out of town, and he's worried about the effects of turning their relationship into theater.

Suddenly, the ghost of Ben Brantley, the New York Times theater critic, appears above Lefkowitz's computer. Well, he doesn't actually appear, for this is a one-man show, but when the actor's eyes pop open in a mixture of eagerness and fear, you can almost see Brantley hovering there. When the critic asks, "So, Josh, what are you working on?" and Lefkowitz replies, "An autobiographical monologue," you can almost see Brantley rolling his eyes.

Why shouldn't he roll his eyes? What could be more ridiculous than a 25-year-old so obsessed with his own nascent career and his own fledgling relationship that he turns it into a one-man theater piece? Despite what you'd expect, Now What? is a terrific show, often hilarious and occasionally moving. Lefkowitz transcends the ridiculousness of his own obsessions by acknowledging them and poking merciless fun at them.

As he did last year at Center Stage, Lefkowitz sits alone in a wooden chair on a temporary riser in a small space at the back of Center Stage's fourth-floor Head Theater. The audience sits at small, maroon cocktail tables beneath blue paper lanterns. With his bushy eyebrows, baby-face cheeks, and gray T-shirt, Lefkowitz could be the twentysomething next door.

Because this show is so unsparingly autobiographical, Lefkowitz's previous trip to Baltimore is even a plot point in his new show. He talks about his desperate attempts to stay faithful to Anika and how difficult that can be when Center Stage houses its visiting performers with young, cute interns willing to share their drugs. The 2006-'07 Lefkowitz is distraught over the situation, but the 2008 Lefkowitz finds it comical. He pretends to be standing outside an intern's bedroom door--he wants to go in, but he knows he shouldn't--and the more his body ties itself into agonizing knots, the funnier he is.

Again and again in Now What?, Lefkowitz is able to see himself from both the inside and outside. He can capture how his obsessions feel like the most momentous, most unusual crises in world history to himself at the time and also how they are the most commonplace twentysomething fumblings to everyone else now. If he only captured the first, his show would be insufferable narcissism; if he only captured the latter, the show would lapse into cynical sarcasm. But because he does both, the piece is a delight.

Now What? begins with elation--the triumph of Lefkowitz's earlier one-man show at Washington's Woolly Mammoth Theatre and the flourishing of his relationship with Anika--but soon sinks into despair as he flounders in trying to come up with a follow-up show and to keep alive a relationship between two actors who are often on the road. The story follows its protagonist from Woolly Mammoth to a Park Slope apartment in Brooklyn to a tour through Baltimore and Louisville, Ky., and back to Park Slope, where he summons up not only the ghost of Brantley but also the ghosts of Eugene O'Neill, Walt Whitman, and William Faulkner.

It doesn't really matter what Lefkowitz talks about; what matters is the way he says it. He could be a repairman at a bike shop, a salesman at a used-CD store, or a reviewer for an alternative weekly, and the bumbling crises of a twentysomething would be the same. The author/actor appears to realize this himself. There's nothing inherently unusual or fascinating about his life; in fact, it's the universality of his experience that's interesting.

Lefkowitz has the timing and body language of a natural stand-up comic. He knows how to let awkwardness build by pausing and how to make recurring patterns funny by speeding up his delivery each time he repeats himself. He signals youthful foolishness by raising the pitch of his voice; he delivers one-man dialogues by quickly shifting his posture in his wooden chair from one speaker to the other; he can blush as if the audience just caught him in an indiscretion. He summons up an entire world without a single prop.

The comic perspective of the 2008 Lefkowitz, chuckling over his earlier foolishness, dominates the show. But occasionally the angst-ridden perspective of the 2006-'07 Lefkowitz pokes through, a reminder that what is so funny to the audience is no laughing matter for the person living through it. It doesn't happen often--just enough to give the show its crucial balance--but when it does, the actor, now 26, makes us understand how much it can hurt to be 25.

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