Saturday, September 1, 2007

"Rites of Privacy" Review for Backstage

Rites of Privacy
August 30, 2007
By Christopher Murray
David Rhodes' one-man show intersperses snippets of autobiographical disclosure in between five monologues with the linking theme of the price people pay for retaining their secrets. The idea here is that identity is often forged at the cost of integrity and can only be redeemed in the crucible of confession.
Such a profoundly Catholic premise would seem odd for a show where the author-performer and all the characters are Jewish, but our culture of self-aggrandizing victimhood trumps all lesser considerations.
Rhodes, clothing rack behind him, sits at a vanity with a lighted mirror as he casually and efficiently adds and removes makeup and costume pieces to embody in sequence an aging Southern belle, "the only Jew in Bethlehem, New Hampshire," an elderly émigré from Dresden, a garish Long Island physician, and a troubled Belgian club kid. Besides offering up a cavalcade of stereotypical accents, these portraits allow Rhodes ample opportunity to show off an unfortunately florid and overwrought acting style that brings to mind Hamlet's imprecation to the Player King not to "tear a passion to tatters."

Cool and elegant projections by scenic designer Greg Emetaz ripple on white curtains upstage in counterpoint to all the effort expended by Rhodes. His Chelsea-boy muscled torso, with twinkling naval ring and tattoos on his upper and lower back, glistens with sweat during costume changes and foreshadows the disclosure at evening's end of a personal secret he purports to have overcome.
There is, however, a transcendent moment early on in Rites of Privacy, when one of the characters mimes playing the harp while singing Noël Coward's syrupy anthem "I'll Follow My Secret Heart." Fingers twirling, voice aquiver with tremolo, caricature is transcended to reveal an inner essence with a ridiculous force, something artists like Charles Ludlam knew to be a pathway into pathos. It's a shame that Rhodes is so earnestly playing tragedy while a tragic clown is imprisoned inside him.
Presented by Moving Parts Theater at Urban Stages, 259 W. 30th St., NYC.Aug. 30-Sept. 30. Tue.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.(212) 868-4444 or

1 comment:

Barbara Finkelstein said...

Maybe I am still under the influence of having seen "Streetcar Named Desire" on TV last night (Philly area), but I found David Rhodes' various characters sensitively and plausibly wrought. Rhodes was able to so something extremely challenging: Walk a fine line between stereotype and archetype -- and succeed. I found him to be convincingly male, female, straight, gay, believer and outcast -- all within an hour and a half. In my view, his five characters are no more "overacted" than Vivian Leigh as Blanche DuBois. I'm going to keep an eye out for his future theatrical productions.

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