Eric Bogosian pleads in an Internet letter to critics that they stop overanalyzing his work and, instead, just answer three basic questions: "Are you glad you came to the show? Were you bored? Did you laugh?"
So, in deference to his wishes: No, yes, yes.
The Worst of Eric Bogosian, presented by the Midnight Company, features Joe Hanrahan performing ten Bogosian monologues, compiled as "the best" of Bogosian's three solo shows: Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll; Pounding Nails Into the Floor With My Forehead; and Wake Up and Smell the Coffee. If you're a Bogosian fan, you won't be disappointed with the choices: The characters serve up his typical sociopolitical spew, salted with graphically specific descriptions of sex and peppered with obscenities. If you've never encountered Bogosian before, you may end up like the couple sitting next me, writing on the back of your program, "Why are we here?"
It may be that when these monologues were first written, they were more relevant. Even though topical references have been updated, the work seems stale. Of course pollution and violence are still with us, but Bogosian isn't saying anything we haven't heard before. We know the world is full of garbage; we've heard rants about the injustice of religion. Bogosian does better with character-driven monologues and is most successful in "Intro," in which he simply presents himself. This was the most dramatically satisfying piece, mostly because it had actual dialogue (with Hanrahan playing both parts). Bogosian both explains his work ("really showing you everything I can be") and excuses his work ("If you're disappointed, I understand. I've never really been a likable person"). He criticizes himself (as an audience member): "Phyllis says all he does is play assholes. I have enough assholes in my life already -- who needs one more?" He then rails at the audience: "Well, you know what? Who needs you?" This interplay between audience expectation and artist angst is at least interesting; his subsequent harangues don't fare as well.
Other Bogosian characters in this "best-of" presentation include an aging drug dealer, a mentally handicapped homeless person, a stud boasting of his large penis and a divorced dad with no clue. He ends as a paranoid artist, one who keeps his art in his head so he can escape becoming part of "the system." In embodying Bogosian and his host of misfits, Hanrahan was most successful in "Intro," "Red," and "Breakthrough," in which the characters seemed to make actual connections with people in the scenes or with the audience. In the other pieces, he often seemed to be addressing the monologues to the floor -- director David Wassilak might have helped him by providing another actor for him to play off. Although Hanrahan gave noble effort in his performance, too often we saw the acting technique instead of the character (this was most noticeable in the opening piece and in "Bottleman," in which he seemed to be doing a bad impression of Dustin Hoffman doing his character from Rainman).
To answer Bogosian's question directly, I was not glad I saw the show. It didn't connect with me; it seemed whiny and mildly annoying. I did laugh -- some of his writing is certainly funny, but the laughs weren't enough to justify spending time with these characters. I don't mind theater that makes me angry, that pushes buttons or forces me to confront issues, but this set of monologues didn't do any of that. I just didn't care enough to be offended.