Desperately Seeking the Exit

Thu 2nd – Sun 26th August 2012

reviews

Yara Rodrigues Fowler

at 10:00 on 3rd Aug 2012

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‘Desperately Seeking the Exit’ is a fantastic piece of narrative. Named after a comment made by a reviewer about Peter Michael Marino’s failed musical adaptation of the film ‘Desperately Seeking Susan’, this one-man show is the most captivating hour-long rant I have ever seen. However, as someone born in early ‘90s I feel that there are certain cultural experiences prerequisite for the optimal enjoyment of this play of which potential audience members should be aware. The first of which being, having watched ‘Desperately Seeking Susan’, the second, having an knowledge of the music of Blondie and Madonna, and thirdly, having smoked a bong at some point in 1979... and preferably continuously since.

Having satisfied the above, prepare yourself for a tale saturated with familiar jokes along the lines of “I’m American and I’m gay, so the British phrase ‘fag butt’...” and the twee novelty of words such as “stiffy”, “shag” and “snog” pronounced in a British accent. Now, there is an intrinsic problem with performing these jokes within the British Isles: none of these words have any novelty, nor did they ever, to the vast majority of people living here, although it must be said that for those visiting from abroad, particularly the USA, they may strike a chord. A significant part of the show consists of Marino describing his strife with his West End director and producer who, much to his frustration, do not understand the various Americanisms of his script and ask him to change them. The examples he gives seem to include the ridiculous, as well as the vaguely insulting. How is it possible that the British don’t know the relative locations of New York and New Jersey!? Or what Mexico is?! For fans of British comedy and drama who have seen their favourite programmes “translated” for an American audience this feels sorely ironic; Marino however does not utilise or even pick up on this tension.

But just as I was beginning to agree more and more fervently with Marino’s comment that “Brits don’t find Americans funny” (he at one point makes a joke based on the revelation that “Britain runs on tea!”), he would throw a comic gem at us. My favourite being his excitement over a trip to a “hole in the wall”, mistakenly believing it to be some sort of glory-hole - filthy but brilliant. Overall, the more grating moments of the show are redeemed by Marino’s unwavering honesty (as far as I can tell) through the farcical and tragic, the shameless name-dropping and shameless haemorrhoid plopping, and his impressive engagement with the audience - at one point he asked us, to the perplexity of the twelve-year-old sitting in front of me, if “anyone had any pot?” Even whilst frowning at Brit jokes I found myself imagining Marino and his former life. And this I think is what makes 'Desperately Seeking the Exit' worth seeing - it's awkward and slightly annoying but grasps you entirely with the story of Marino’s bizarre failure and the eventual reinvention of his “hideous dying baby” on the Tokyo stage. Sure enough the first thing I did when I got home was to look up the Japanese version of Marino’s musical on Youtube.

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salome wagaine

at 18:52 on 3rd Aug 2012

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It feels slightly awkward to review Peter Michael Marino’s one-man show 'Desperately Seeking the Exit', as it takes as its narrative the rise and fall of Marino’s West End musical version of the film 'Desperately Seeking Susan', which was less than positively received (this particular production’s title gives an indication as to the kind of response it garnered). Thankfully, though, this production rests on the charm and charisma of a highly watchable performer.

Peter Michael Marino is not necessarily the kind of guy a reserved, tea-drinking, ‘cheers’ and ‘alright?’ uttering Brit like me would ordinarily go down to the pub with, but there was something desperately engaging in his tale of a weed-fuelled wacky idea turning into a very public disaster. Not only is there comedy, and some wonderfully self-deprecating moments (Marino acknowledges his name-dropping, although given that he was in correspondence with Debbie Harry and Madonna, it’s no surprise it occasionally happens), but there is some genuine honesty too: you truly get the guilt and shame when Marino reveals the cast weren’t informed of their show closing with only a four week run before it was discussed online.

This is the thing that makes 'Desperately Seeking the Exit' interesting: a one-man show, usually seen as the home of brave and bold performances and artistic vision and drive, is being used to demonstrate just how terrifying it can be to give up one’s creative baby and collaborate. Clearly, Peter Michael Marino is a man who understands what kind of stories work for the stage and realised that the old adage ‘write what you know’ would make for something heartfelt and appealing.

That is not to say, of course, that the production was without fault: some of the jokes did not grab the entire audience and perhaps some of the material could be tweaked to fit with its current audience. Nevertheless, in 'Desperately Seeking the Exit', we have the tried and tested musical format of a little guy with a big dream hitting the big time and losing it all, only to find redemption, this time with just a single performer and a very bare and small stage. All in all then, a decent and amusing show.

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