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|A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
By David Avery
"Forty days" is a loaded phrase, appearing more than once in the Bible (three times I can think of off hand: the great flood is caused by a rainstorm of forty days and forty nights, Jonah preached to the citizens of Nineveh for forty days, and Jesus was tested by Satan in the wilderness for forty days). So I was prepared for something heavy, and pretentious, as I sat down to see Steven Connell's performance piece 40 Days. Instead, I was surprised with a very funny one-man show that runs up and down the emotional keys, and is at no time pretentious.
Writer and performer Connell goes out of his way let the audience know he doesn't take himself too seriously. His message is very serious, and very personal to him; but he is a clown as well as a messenger, and let's the audience laugh at him as well as with him.
The show begins with him at a writing desk in a cabin trying to come up with "the point" of a show. He tells us "I might as well call this 'Fictitious Journal Entry Number 1,' because it didn't happen." This format of fictitious journal entries is used for the show's chapter titles.
Connell goes on to tell us that when documenting the real life, he's found it's necessary "to make a lot of shit up." He is interrupted by a call from his girlfriend, telling him to turn on the TV. It's 9/11 and the towers are coming down.
A histrionic run through his emotions follows with Connell climbing around the set that consists mostly of boxes covered with drop cloths, with a canvas-like background. Various moments of historical disaster announced (Pearl Harbor, the dropping of the Atomic bomb, etc) are recalled over PA by a reporter-like voice. Each ends with the same comment: "The world has changed forever."
Just as this starts to get to us, Connell grins and declares "Don't worry; this show isn't about 9/11. It's about 9/12, and 9/13." But that's not entirely true; what the show is about is Connell's reactions to 9/11, and his struggle to be relevant and meaningful within the country's ensuing artistic climate. It's a chronicle of his journey to find "the point" mentioned early on. As part of this process, he discusses moments early in his life that he now recognizes as the first steps on his path to becoming an artist, as well as the problems he faced once he became one. He likens the show to "that scene in Clash of the Titans where everybody fought Medusa" and compares the production to a mirror he (and the audience) can use to look at some ugly, dangerous truths.
The humor is blended with poignancy and heartbreak. Connell talks about March 22, 2003, a date when he had a fight with his girlfriend. It's an important date because on that day they broke their pact to not fight for forty days (there is that phrase again) -- and it's also the day that the United States launched its attack on Iraq.
He was up "until 4 AM fighting with the woman he loved" which leads to the memory's inevitable conclusion: "the date is March 22, 2003. The world has changed forever." Audience members may not have been up fighting with someone they loved that day but they can surely relate to being awake at 4 AM, knowing the world had (or would be) changed forever.
Connell is an outstanding performer who connects with the audience on a very personal level. Director Kristin Hanggi has him running around the stage, leaping off tables and crawling through chairs. As a veteran of the Def Poetry Jam and Poetry Slam forums, he has an urban cadence to his speech and breaks into rhyme spontaneously throughout the piece. However, this is not just a long poem, but a lyric journey through a performer's creative process, recalling Stephen Daedalus in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Connell's timing is spot on as well. He knows just when to ramp up the energy, when to bring it down, and when to unexpectedly pull the rug out. He is not afraid to be vulnerable or discuss his shortcomings, saying "As you can see, I have trouble with conflict; which is Morse code for 'I'm a pussy.'"
40 Days is a thoughtful, fun, and moving production. Sitting through it felt much more like forty minutes, and a quick forty minutes at that.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co. >Click image to buy.
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