Culture Critic

Outside the impossibly small box office/lobby of Performance Space 122 is a swarm of hipster 30-year-olds blocking the sidewalk, trying to get in to see Mike Albo's much-anticipated third solo show, My Price Point. PS 122 is usually a draw on its own, being the historical stamping ground for solo performers like Karen Finlay and the late, great Spalding Gray. But adding to the frenzy is the critical buzz about this self-confessed "D-list" celebrity. Angry East Villagers pass remarks as they try to squeeze through the loud and shivering downtown-theater crowd. Once seated in the packed theater on the second floor, one is immediately excited by Jeremy Chernick's inspiring set. We see an urban apartment with steel file cabinets, a desk, lamps, chairs, and even a gray metal locker. Lining the back of the stage are a bunch of Adidas trainer shoes, in soldier-like rows. There are red laces in each shoe, which stretch to a single point in the center of the ceiling, looking like the crimson rays of some sort of apocalyptic sun. A "Tsunami Relief" can on one of the desks furthers the tone of impending disaster. We also see a cowboy hat perched on top of the locker, reminding us all too well of the George "Dubya" political machine.

A cheer starts to rise from the audience as a precocious-looking Albo struts purposefully to the center of the stage with a large, novelty-size book by L. Ron Hubbard, founder of Scientology. He is clad in an Adidas warm-up suit. He begins to talk to the crowd in an infomercial style: "This is your world, the way you want to see it, based on a number of studies and polls. You have 'fear,' but no Fear Factor. You prefer Taye Digs in more comedic roles. You enjoy low-cost stars like David Spade and Mariska Hargitay. I am pregnant with a tumor filled with Splenda. I feel like the entire world's set on Vibrate."

Albo proceeds to take shots at pop icons like Entertainment Tonight, Access Hollywood, and US Weekly. Also, overhyped and corporatized celebrities, ribbons for AIDS, breast cancer, "Support Our Troops," Lance Armstrong, celebrity religions, pashmina scarves, "princess shoes," trucker hats, yoga, T-Mobile, Sprint, Verizon, Cingular, chihuahuas, babies, updating your Internet profile on friend networks like Friendster, and going to tanning salons. In essence, a culture that has defined itself by its gross consumerism, celebrity obsession, and a broken moral compass. Narcissism is America's drug of choice, and Albo takes a kind of melancholy glee in being just another blissfully ignorant user.

One of the more interesting themes that he explores is a culture of being tired. Why are we always so tired? Our day could be as indulgent as going to a spa and shopping, and yet the first words out of our mouths when we run into a friend are "I'm soooo tired." Albo also addresses the trendy American pill epidemic. After he descends into a coughing fit, he apologizes, saying, "I'm sorry, I have acid reflux. I was taking Nexium and Prilosec OTC, but now I'm on something totally better."

He continues with a laundry list of over-the-counter and non-over-the-counter drugs that have become household names thanks to Pfizer and the rest of the corporate medical industry. Medical placebos are big business in a country that is riddled with self-doubt and self-obsession. Albo also discusses the razor-sharp, fast-paced New York real estate scene, with its corporate and celebrity buy-ups of all remaining affordable residential housing: "As a broker, I get money from your account every time you desire a sense of home."

But some of Albo's and co-writer Virginia Heffernan's material misses the mark. A bit about being in Maui when he heard that the tsunami hit South Asia falls flat. The tsunami could have been a very interesting way to comment on a post-9/11 landscape of international disasters that have brought the world together. Instead, this is where some of the show's stories come off a little like pages out of Albo's pink sequin-studded diary and are not as important as he thought they were when he was being passed a joint on the Maui beaches. A bit as J.Lo's personal assistant is kind of old news. Her clothing line and multiple marriages have been beaten to death at this point, and the material lacks freshness.

David Schweizer is an undoubtedly masterful director, having collaborated on Rinde Eckert's deeply moving solo show called And God Created Great Whales. Unfortunately, I did not feel the same presence in this show. It is noticeable with the transitions and musical breaks. Cary Curran's dance numbers are really fun but don't reappear as consistently as one might prefer. They are usually the show's high points, where the audience is taken on more of a journey.

One of the most important rules of solo performance of this kind is that the characters need to be distinctive. Unfortunately, most of the characters sound and act the same. Ultimately, the question arises, Is this theater? Though extremely charming and witty, Albo doesn't have the theatrical gravity of solo performers like John Leguizamo or Billy Crystal. There's no real emotional catharsis. Nor does he have the poetic storytelling delivery that put Spalding Gray on the cultural map.

My Price Point is self-referential and fun, winking at the audience about the fact that even this show was sponsored (by Adidas). But overall, the production just does not yield much fresh and thought-provoking insight, not to mention that at times the material comes off like "so five minutes ago." One wants Albo to really go for a higher lesson, but the show does not support something so dramatic. The problem is, this is the theater. That's the whole darn point.

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