Every year I look forward to the Frigid Festival, and finally it's here.
That's a lie. In actuality, every year (this is their third) Frigid sneaks up on me, and all of a sudden there are all these interesting little productions happening all at once, and hardly any time to see them. Some are locally grown, but many are touring shows that drift about the continent, attempting to take root at whatever festivals they can get into. (A bit like bands, come to think of it). If I had no other responsibilities, I'd take the 12 days off and just hang around the East Village going from one Frigid show to the next.
John Hefner's The Hefner Monologues both is and isn't what you might guess from the title. Yes, it's monologues; no, they're not separate or independent. Yes, it's a guy named Hefner talking about his own life; no, his stories are neither fictionalized nor gaudily embellished (at least, he is able to convince us as much).
As personal tales are wont to, these include embarrassing moments, funny situations, life-changing experiences, revelations. We see Mr. Hefner in childhood, adolescence, and college years. One lesson learned: it's often the "silly little things" that make all the difference, things like finding you have a clean tissue to offer a pretty girl who's crying. Another lesson: being related to a famously unique celebrity (Mr. Hefner is a relation of Playboy founder Hugh Hefner) can be a curse, but the curse can also be lifted.
Mr. Hefner's non-relationship with his famous cousin is the surface element that holds the hour-long piece together, but what really makes the show more than a sequence of set-pieces is threefold. First, Mr. Hefner has skilfully woven the stories into a contiguous narrative whole. Second is the serious side of the subject matter, mainly the actor's attempts to deal with a difficult family legacy unrelated to the famous cousin. The third is the sheer force of Mr. Hefner's personality, which in this case is another way of saying his talent as an actor. While the stories may be true and unembellished, the delivery is bigger than life, often nearing (but never going over) the top.
Ah, "the top": that famous theatrical promontory which we all know when we see, but can never fully define. Mr. Hefner's presentation is almost too big for the tiny theater he's in. But one wouldn't want him to tone it down, any more than one would expect his famous relation to ever be anything other than the icon of indulgent excess he is. The Hefner Monologues is a modest-sized piece with a very big heart, and well worth your modest investment.
At the Red Room, 85 E. 4th St., in repertory as part of the Frigid Festival through March 8. See the schedule for dates and times.