The Space. Adelaide Festival Centre. June 21 2014
Reviewed by Peter Wilkins
|Ben Rimalower in Patti Issues|
Inspiration can be the flame that gives fire to the performer’s art. Obsession, however, is the closed door between the artist and the audience. I chose New York cabaret performer, Ben Rimalower’s Patti Issues in the mistaken understanding that he may be performing Broadway musical theatre star Patti Lupone’s songs within an account of his life as a gay Jewish boy. He does screech some lyrics from Evita to underline his inner torment as he struggles with his obsession with Julie Covington’s Evita Peron and her recording of Don’t Cry For Me Argentina, his consequent obsession with Diva Lupone, and his fragmented Jewish family.For just over an hour Rimalower candidly reveals his family’s dysfunction, his adoration of Lupone from afar, his meeting with Lupone , their burgeoning friendship and eventual falling out. Patti issues is also Rimalower’s indulget catharsis. The tenuous line between therapy and entertainment. What follows is the stuf fof Soap Opera, except that it is pointedly real. Rimalower’s father leaves home to live in a series of gay relationships. Young Ben is confused by his sexuality. Perhaps ironically, or just genetically, Ben eventually comes out and embraces his sexuality. Ben’s Dad is a neurotic obstetrician, who unsuccessfully attempts suicide. Ben and sister, Lucy gradually become estranged from the father. His mother remarries, a George Rimalower, who eventually adopts Ben. Meanwhile Ben finds comfort in his fixation with Patti Lupone. He becomes an assistant to Lonny Price on a production of Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd, starring Lupone, and meets his idol. His father again attempts suicide. Ben helps Lupone with her lines and lyrics. He loses his job as a result of idolized distraction, and decides to cast Leslie Kritzer in a production of Patti Lupone at Les Mouches. Lupone is very upset and demands that the show be pulled. Ben is left distraught, unemployed and without a happy ending.
Fantasy and reality blur at times. There is such candor in his story that I wonder whether there is truth in the fact that after ten years apart, his father buys a ticket for a seat directly behind Rimalower at a New York show. Coincidence or contrivance? If his story is entirely true, then his family might have cause for dismay at being so candidly exposed. It could be enough for Lupone to exude what John Houseman called “her smell of the gallows” yet in the cabaret festival programme, Patti Lupone is quoted as saying of this long-running Broadway solo show, “The show’s fantastic. He’s a very talented man.” Maybe it’s I who need the therapy, but I still found the show clichéd.
Stereotypes exist ,and Rimalower’s struggles with sexuality, family issues and obsession deserve empathy, but not New York stand up bravado. Unlike the lady at the table behind me, whose laughter repeatedly crackled about my ears, I did not find Patti Issues funny. Personable perhaps, but not tender as the programme promised, and director Aaron Mark would have been wise to play the dramaturg and open the doorway to guide Patti Issues beyond the wall of obsession.