The Exorcist

There are many reasons why people write and perform in a one-person show: to engage in a very public therapy session, to tell a story that hasn't been heard onstage, and, obviously, to showcase their acting/writing talents. For Bob Brader, his reason was more pressing. He needed to exorcise the demons of his past—specifically, his father, who is the titular evildoer at the center of Brader's Spitting in the Face of the Devil. Growing up in eastern Pennsylvania, Brader was "Little Bob" to his dad's "Big Bob." But the elder Bob's joviality and popularity with his extended family and friends was at odds with the belittling, abusive monster whom his son and wife knew at home. As Brader dispassionately charts his coming of age and realization that his father is the Devil, he relates experiences both charming (when he figures out that he wants to be an actor) and disturbing (his father's way of handling Brader's bedwetting habit). As the truth behind Big Bob's behavior comes out, will Little Bob be able to escape his father's grasp, and his legacy?

Brader employs a linear structure to his storytelling, starting from the news of his father's death and then running through major events of his youth and early adulthood. Though the show runs 90 minutes—a little lengthy for a solo piece—Brader's tale and his energy in telling it keep the audience from growing restless. The set (a black desk and chair on a black stage) and Brader's position (seated behind the desk) never change, but the performer's pauses for a sip of water or coffee work alongside Douglas Shearer's lighting design to note scene shifts and changes in tone.

Brader's impersonations of his mother, father, younger self, and friends are judiciously minimal, evoking the characters without turning into silly impressions. The actor mostly underplays the drama of the story, but the events in his story, coupled with Brader's driving need to tell it, make for compelling theater.

There is catharsis to be found when opening up to the world. While Brader admits to having worked on much of his past in therapy, it's clear from Spitting in the Face of the Devil that this production is not just vanity or exhibitionism but a way to expunge any remaining residue from his gritty past. As for the audience, some might get a voyeuristic thrill from the proceedings, or a feeling that "the grass isn't always greener" (their childhood wasn't so bad after all). But most important, they are part of one man's healing process.

Click for print friendly PDF version of this blog post