To hear him tell it, the title of Ben Rimalower’s one-person show “Bad With Money” is an understatement. His money addiction has led him into all sorts of dark and felonious places –– but rather than being behind bars, he’s on stage at the Duplex confessing, after a fashion.
Appropriate to the venue, the show is really a one-hour cabaret act sans songs that is a series of anecdotes about the lengths Rimalower has gone to feed his obsession with lucre. As with many addicts, it doesn’t seem like he has gotten much pleasure from some ill-gotten gains. The stories are appropriately horrifying to those of us who manage to be slightly more responsible with money, at least to the point of not stealing from friends or thinking that gay prostitution is a career option. The difference between him and –– hopefully –– most of us lends an inevitable bit of Schadenfreude to the evening.
Rimalower is larger than life on the small stage and very charming, and there were points in the tale when there were audible gasps from the audience. If you’ve ever been despondent over missing a credit card payment, this show will fix that. There are worse things that could happen –– many of which have likely never occurred to you. It’s not clear whether or not Rimalower’s been cured of his addiction –– one assumes not, based on the show’s final moments –– and the piece would be enhanced by a little more introspection and perspective. As shocking and entertaining as his horror stories are, he misses an opportunity to be more than a cabaret performer.
Rimalower doesn’t strive for anything deeper than asking people to laugh at his antics, and so the experience is largely voyeuristic rather than engaging. The larger costs of his behavior and how those relate to our own struggles with money are left unexamined. One wishes director Aaron Mark had pushed him further. Money and our relationship to it are hot topics in contemporary culture, but as diverting as “Bad With Money” is, it’s unfortunate the piece isn’t — you should pardon the expression — richer.
The theater of ideas can be rocky terrain to negotiate, given the often questionable entertainment value of polemics and philosophical discourse. Fortunately, with “Winners and Losers,” now at Soho Rep, Marcus Youssef and James Long have created an economical and engaging piece that succeeds.
The overarching theme is that what makes one thing a winner and another thing a loser varies according to individual tastes. Over the course of 90 minutes, the play delves into the substantive and the superficial, even taking suggestions from the audience at two points in the performance I saw.
Were this just a string of opinions about who’s a winner and what’s a loser, it would quickly grow tiresome, but what becomes apparent soon enough is that this is a larger meditation on how culture and experience shape perception and how our opinions become reality, regardless of contradictory facts. The play asks us to look at the very human practice of relegating things to the labels we assign them and the impact of that tendency on our relationship to the rest of the world.
Appealing and authentic, Youssef and Long, who also wrote the piece, have an easy chemistry on stage and a performance style that creates the illusion the audience is involved in a discussion taking shape in front of us. It’s an effective technique for creating intimacy and immediacy with the performers and the ideas, and the two performers responding in real time to audience suggestions creates the impression the evening is unscripted. Fortunately it’s not; instead, the thoughtfulness and sophistication of the material is enhanced by its simple presentation.
The piece is performed on a bare stage with minimal props, and director Chris Abraham gets lively, focused performances from Youssef and Long. It’s a well-conceived and compellingly presented evening that both entertains and inspires insights that will likely keep you thinking and talking long after the curtain comes down.
BAD WITH MONEY | The Duplex Cabaret, 61 Christopher St. at Sheridan Sq. | Jan. 21 & 28, 7 p.m.; Feb. 5, 12, 19, 26, 9:30 p.m. | $25-$50 plus a two-drink minimum at purplepass.com or 800-316-8559 | 60 mins., no intermission
WINNERS AND LOSERS | Soho Rep, 64 Walker St. at Broadway | Through Feb. 1: Wed.-Sun at 7:30 p.m. | $35 at ovationtix.com or 866-811-4111 | 90 mins., no intermission