Reuben Nisenfield at the Back Door, 4321 SE Hawthorne, 736-1027, Thursday 8 pm (Dec 18 show @ 10 pm), $7-9
T he press releases for Reuben Nisenfield's new one-man show, Attendance Is Mandatory, have described the performance as "rant-a-riffic. It's an odd description. Nisenfield might be seething with rant-ful rage on the inside, but presents himself on the outside as, at most, mildly chagrined. He's a little guy, with a perpetual wide-eyed expression and a gentle demeanor. His "rant-a-riffic" talents include playing with action figures and wrapping duct tape around the audience members.
Attendance Is Mandatory is a series of sketches skewing recent ridiculous political events, acted out by a man with little to no stage presence, in a setting that resembles a basement. The skits are loosely assembled, with sloppy, often nonexistent transitions connecting them. In some, Nisenfield is addressed by a voice in his head that comments on his pathetic life and compels him to do its bidding. In others, he stages cartoonish battles between real-life politicians, who appear in the guises of various toys. The sum of these elements is sporadic, but at least spontaneous. One could imagine Nisenfield play-acting whether there are people watching or not, perhaps performing for his pets, or a couch full of stuffed animals.
This sense of amiable, shuffling lunacy is sort of sad, but also very funny. It saves the show, as Nisenfield's satires are hardly cutting edge. His toy politicians include George W. Bush as the cowboy from Toy Story and Arnold Schwarzenegger as some sort of flying superhero-looking figure; and his rendition of a soldier posted off NE Killingsworth, while a funny idea, is derivative of dozens of other hick/soldier imitations. But Nisenfield seems utterly absorbed with his creations--the fact that people are actually watching him is an afterthought. His half-hearted, distracted cavorting feels more like an obsession with current events that manifests itself in strange, imaginary games than a fully realized performance. It's somehow both lifeless, and never boring, like watching a man mutter to himself in a back alley, a scenario that's literally only a step away from this bizarre, shoddy, compulsively watchable production. JUSTIN WESCOAT SANDERS