Theater Reviews

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New York Theatre Workshop
Through May 20


There's a good reason why John Fugelsang was a frequent guest on Bill Maher's "Politically Incorrect."

It's the same reason he thrived as a co-host of "America's Funniest Home Videos." Plain and simple, he's a master of short, funny comments and puts an often hilarious spin on the most mundane topics.

But does that talent lend itself to a 100-minute one-man show? Not necessarily, as proved by Fugelsang's stage debut, "All the Wrong Reasons: A True Story of Neo-Nazis, Drug Smuggling and Undying Love."

In fairness, Fugelsang injects a lot of his trademark verve into this autobiographical monologue. Yet, many of the recollections go on too long, with endings that come up shy of the expected payoff.

Although a lot of ground is covered, the material basically comprises the three subjects addressed in the show's subtitle: neo-Nazis, drug smuggling and amour. The latter has the most potential as it actually is a two-parter, starting with the unusual romance of Fugelsang's parents: a nun and a Franciscan brother who fell in love and left their former lives behind to raise a family on Long Island. That tale is intercut with the story of Fugelsang's 11-year relationship with his girlfriend as both battle attempts to get them married.

Although some of the courtship business is familiar turf, Fugelsang's take on it is amusing. And given his parents' religious background, Fugelsang wisely lets the Bible and God color home-life anecdotes, many of which are duly inspired. Indeed, Fugelsang initially comes out gangbusters with rat-a-tat segues from God's condemnation of seed-spilling Onan to Christian bashers to Catholic guilt.

The problems surface when Fugelsang moves on to relate his showdown with former Ku Klux Klan member David Dukes on "Politically Incorrect." The setup is fine, but the longer he goes, the more drawn out it becomes. Ditto for the half-hour Fugelsang spends on his ill-fated decision to smuggle a bag of marijuana aboard a plane to give to a sick friend in New York.

That's not to say that audiences will be nodding off. Funny quips are sprinkled among the verbiage, some of which might be deservedly quoted by theatergoers after the show's conclusion. Unfortunately, they also might be commenting on Fugelsang's run-on tendencies, which ultimately dominate the narrative. In addition, his need to bookend the separate chapters into a cohesive whole feels forced. Partial blame for that goes to director Pam MacKinnon.

So much for the detractions. On the plus side, Fugelsang is likable, charismatic and has a refreshingly unaffected stage presence. He makes the most of his lanky frame as he athletically moves between the almost bare stage's tangerine sofa, stand-up mike and a roped-off corridor of metal barrier poles. Further, he is adept at being the mouthpiece for everyone from his mother to God to advice-giving married men.

Accordingly, one can't help wishing for two things: seeing Fugelsang soon channel his rapier wit into a better vehicle and -- in the meantime -- becoming a constant presence on Maher's new couch at HBO.

ALL THE WRONG REASONS: A TRUE STORY OF NEO-NAZIS, DRUG SMUGGLING AND UNDYING LOVE
Presented by New York Theatre Workshop
Credits:
Playwright: John Fugelsang
Director: Pam MacKinnon
Set/costume designer: Kaye Voyce
Lighting designer: Mark Barton
Sound designer: Jeremy J. Lee
Cast: John Fugelsang

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