“Behind the scars is the art.”
Thus does Katie Ruben succinctly summarize the comic source in the ballad she sings at the outset of her one-woman show “Why I died, a comedy!” From there she reveals to the audience in short order her struggles with a manic nature, bouts of depression and self-doubts, and a dysfunctional upbringing. She writes, partially as creative self-medication, and partly in hopes of recognition rather than monetary rewards, a factor that causes Stan, her acerbic manager, a good deal of consternation.
“Who succeeds?” he drills into her. “People who eat, sleep and breathe it!”
She does try, but there is always the crippling black “mind smoke” that arises to suffocate her spirit and will. Nothing placates the monster, not therapy, not the latest wonder drug, not the 12 step cha-cha. Then she is invited by a dizzy, New Age friend to attend a “majalis”, the Middle East version of a “Revival Meeting”. There Katie experiences Sufism, the mystical branch of Islam, primarily known to the West by the poetry of Rumi, and its ritualized devotional dancers popularly called “whirling dervishes”.
Katie finds herself infused and illuminated by a sense of well-being and, for the first time in her life, is able to “put the mind smoke to good use” in the fashioning of her work.
So a nice Jewish girl from Florida commits to a spiritual exploration of this furtive Muslim pathway to discover the divine love and wisdom reflected in the world.
And therein lays the tale.
One person shows are unforgiving beasts. You may entrench yourself deeply in razzle-dazzle pyrotechnics, employ a score rivaling Beethoven, and clad yourself in the armor of multi-media but if at the core your story is hollow and your presentation spurious, better you should be performing a water ballet in the tank of Great Whites wearing a steak tartare tutu. Fortunately, Ms. Rubin is in no such peril.
Ms Rubin punctuates and punches up the framing device of her spiritual quest with brief sketches, ostensibly those she’s writing for the prodding Stan. I almost feel as if I’m doing Ms. Rubin a disservice in calling these pieces “sketches” as each is a solidly crafted character study surfeit of both wit and intelligence.
On stage Ms. Rubin glides effortlessly from her own persona to those of her creations with commitment and sincerity that staunches caricature from rearing its ugly head. She is ably facilitated in this by director Victor Bumbalo and together they have provided the Echo Theater Company with a premiere production at their new home here at the Atwater Village Theatre they can well crow about.
Ms. Rubin has succeeded admirably with her effort here in manifesting on stage a line she quotes from Rumi; “Let the beauty we love be what we do.”
And that she does indeed.
Why I Died, A Comedy!
Atwater Village Theatre
3269 Casitas Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90038
Performances: (begins at 8 p.m.)
Fridays: Jan 10, 17
Saturdays: Jan 11, 18
Thursdays: Feb 13, 20, 27
Call (510) 689-8025