Friday, September 22, 2006

Move over, Woody Allen. Twenty-four-year-old monologist Josh Lefkowitz has cornered the market on comic Jewish angst, and he’s more age-appropriate to Scarlett Johansson to boot.

With “Help Wanted: A Personal Search for Meaningful Employment at the Start of the 21st Century,” Mr. Lefkowitz confidently and zanily follows in the footsteps of baby-boomer performance artists Eric Bogosian, Holly Hughes, Karen Finley, Tim Miller and the actor’s hero, the late confessional monologist Spalding Gray, who reportedly committed suicide in 2004.

Being plucked from this summer’s inaugural D.C. Fringe Festival — quick thinking on Woolly Mammoth’s part — has given this show added exposure to local audiences.

“Help Wanted” is an ardent fan’s note, as Mr. Lefkowitz decided to become a storyteller after swooning over Mr. Gray’s “Monster in a Box” and then reading all Mr. Gray’s other works in an obsessive preamble to his 20th birthday, which for him signaled the putting away of childish things.

He sells his Nintendo, but is seduced by the video game Civilization III, touted by Time magazine as “the greatest game ever,” setting off a gaming binge that threatens his relationship with his second-generation hippie girlfriend. “I started to appreciate other things — like natural light and three dimensions,” he notes dryly after coming out of a computer-induced coma.

“Help Wanted” also humorously deals with the soul-destroying realities of being a wage slave after Mr. Lefkowitz graduates from college with a fine-arts degree and soon discovers his only career option is as parking-garage attendant. Content to sit and read all day for the princely sum of $9.50 an hour, he is pushed into actually doing something with his education by his girlfriend and by the ever-present thought, “What would Spalding do?”

Guided by his loquacious hero, Mr. Lefkowitz gets a part in a play and moves to the District, where the theater sets him up in an English basement apartment in Dupont Circle. His recounting of being a straight man in a homosexual neighborhood (although the milieu soon has him questioning his sexuality) is hysterical enough, but he ups the ante in subsequent bits about struggling to survive as an actor after the play ends and he lands with a thud at a group house in Northeast.

At first refusing to become that showbiz cliche — a waiter — Mr. Lefkowitz decides instead to overcome whatever racism he might harbor by befriending his ethnic neighbors and the black cashier at the corner grocery store, whose explanation as to why the meat is at the front of the store rather than the back will have you in stitches.

Mr. Lefkowitz approaches this and other potential hot-button topics with a winning combination of guilelessness and astute observation. Much of the time, he’s poking fun at himself, such as in his clueless reaction to the bumper sticker “My boss is a Jewish carpenter,” which in less affable hands would set back Judeo-Christian relations a couple hundred years.

With his Beatles-esque mop top and apple cheeks, Mr. Lefkowitz is the sweet, smart boy your Bubbe prays for you to bring home to dinner. His delivery is more theatrical than the courtly, WASPy Mr. Gray’s. Arms windmilling like Pete Townshend in the ‘70s, voice burbling up and down the scale with carbonated buoyancy, he displays a freewheeling showmanship that is infectious.

Help wanted? Mr. Lefkowitz appears to be doing fine all on his own.


WHAT: “Help Wanted: A Personal Search for Meaningful Employment at the Start of the 21st Century” by Josh Lefkowitz

WHERE: Melton Rehearsal Hall, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, 641 D St. NW

WHEN: 8:15 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 7:15 p.m. Sundays. Through Oct 1.


PHONE: 202/393-3939


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