18 June 2012

Andrew Weems Invites You to ‘Damascus’

Andrew Weems has written a new play, Damascus, featuring one actor, who also happens to be Andrew Weems, and a cast of thousands, whom he conjures with one of the most expressive voices I’ve heard and a melting pot of accents. This isn’t in itself newsworthy, however, since Andy’s previous one-man show, Namaste Man, and indeed almost any conversation with the guy likewise entail this kind of richly populated yarn-spinning: for this reason, he’s one of my favorite actors and one of my most beloved companions.

He’s up to something extraordinarily ambitious here, and I urge you to drop by the 4th Street Theatre, where the Acting Company is presenting Damascus in a production directed by Ian Belknap, through a Saturday matinée on June 23. Andy weaves truth and fiction, elements of his own life story, exotic travelogue, and urban chaos into a single, sublimely poignant moment.

You will have to see the play in order to understand the full significance of this picture, which I believe Andy himself took, and which I filched from his Facebook page.

Act I focuses primarily on the Narrator, an impoverished would-be writer on a sordid, steeply spiraling, Schlitz-stoked decline; Act II focuses more on Alexander, the protagonist of a magazine story that the Narrator reads on the first day of the rest of his life. Soon enough the lines between Inwood (where the Narrator lives) and India (where Alexander travels) and between “I” and “he” are blurring, as both men’s lives — seemingly unrelated — converge in a metaphorical Damascus, where revelation leads to conversion.

As a playwright, Andy doesn’t show much sympathy for the Narrator, which is a shame and yet perhaps necessary in order for us to see how very much he needs redemption; and in the telling, the Narrator doesn’t show much sympathy for anyone else, either. Fair is fair. Ultimately, it’s the story, more than the Narrator himself, that exudes compassion.

It’s up to Andy the actor to bring all the characters to the stage in a way that keeps us engaged, and this he does with the most elegant means, tiny but telling gestures, tone of voice, tilt of head. It’s as if he’s pulling delightful tricks out of a magic box. Some of the characters resemble people whom Andy and I both have known, which lends to my enjoyment of the performance: for example, he has absolutely nailed one woman who managed a bookstore we used to frequent. Even those who aren’t familiar to me at all — an injured Irishman in India, a fulminating Russian landlord, a kindly server at a Dunkin Donuts, so many others — are recognizable and real.

“How could I forget that I have everything?” the Narrator muses at one point, leading me to a little epiphany of my own. Whereupon I started to cry, in a way that I might not, had this story really been in a magazine, as Andy depicts it. (His writing is certainly good enough for any magazine. He’s always had that knack, damn him.) But theater is life and a precious gift, as Alexander comes to understand, and I needed to hear those words from a guy standing in the room with me. Andy knows that, and he knows how to do that better than anyone else.

Damascus, written by and starring Andrew Weems.
The 4th Street Theatre
83 West 4th St., near Second Ave.
Now through Saturday, June 23
For tickets and more information, click here.

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