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NEW YORK – It’s a long way from Detroit to New York, especially if you’re Charlie Sheen. One week after his My Violent Torpedo of Truth/Defeat is Not an Option tour launched in a disastrous Motor City debut, the show rolled into Radio City Music Hall Friday night in a streamlined version that was slightly more sedate — and quite a bit duller.
The most interesting thing Sheen did onstage was throw down the gauntlet to his former Two and a Half Men boss, Chuck Lorre. Near the close of the show, when asked if he wanted his old job back, Sheen said, “Of course, I want my job back, so you guys can keep watching the best f**king sitcom in the world!” He then issued an open invitation to Lorre to join him onstage in his second New York show Sunday night, “to fix Two and a Half Men.”
Sticking with the format introduced in Chicago the night after Sheen was virtually booed off the stage in Detroit, the show was moderated by an onstage interviewer.
Gone is the thankless standup comic who turned the term “warm-up act” into a burning at the stake. Gone is the grandiloquent sermon delivered from a lectern in which Sheen spun buzzwords into a personal manifesto for truth in a universe of “fiction-spouting, canker-tongued liar mouths.” Gone is the musical guest. Gone is most of the video content hurled on the jumbo screens in desperation whenever Sheen felt the show unraveling.
All that remains of that latter element is a more elaborate reworking of the Andrea Canning 20/20 interview, plugged full of broad visual gags that went over gangbusters with the glassy-eyed, beer-swilling stoner crowd. Oddly, this got perhaps the best reception of any part of the show.
But just what is the show? Much as the evening has evolved since Detroit, it remains amorphous and unclassifiable. Depending on your point of view, it’s either the perfect response or the ugly apotheosis of a bottom-feeding pop culture saturated in celebrity obsession, rapid-fire visual stimuli and meaningless sound bites.
“How many people want to hear the truth tonight from Charlie?” asked the unidentified moderator, ushering Sheen onstage (wearing a NY Yankees T-shirt and cap) more than 30 minutes after the scheduled start time. But nothing coherent enough to be considered anyone’s truth followed.
“Surprise! I’m not staying at the f**king Plaza Hotel,” announced Sheen. He then dipped into his hotel adventures over the years with a balance that probably leaned more toward mock heroics and hallucinogenic fantasy than actual experience.
We did get Sheen’s account of that night last fall at the Plaza with porn star Capri Anderson. While he concedes that “a chair might have got tossed and there might have been some broken glass,” Sheen says the biggest scandal that night was that despite a $30,000 tip, he didn’t get to have sex with Anderson. He blamed Ambien (“the devil’s aspirin”) for him ending up naked and attacking the cops.
If the New York show is any indication of what the tour has become, it must be living hell for an addict. Every time Sheen mentions crack or cocaine there are loud cheers, followed by boos whenever he says he no longer partakes. This crowd – most of whom looked like Jersey Shore rejects and watched the majority of the show through their phone-cams – has no interest in sober, rational Charlie. They want crazed warlock Charlie. Or Carlos, as many in the house kept shouting.
The interviewer fed Sheen cues through the roughly 55 minutes he remained onstage. They ranged from early showbiz memories to specific movies like Wall Street and Platoon, from his “goddesses” (who appeared briefly) to his bucket list.
None of the responses were especially illuminating, though there were some intriguing conversational detours. When Sheen started extolling his father’s epic coolness, having killed Colonel Kurtz in a typhoon, you started to wonder did he think Apocalypse Now was real? He also cited Martin Sheen’s encounter with a jungle cat in that movie as the origin of his own tiger blood. Whatever, dude.
Sheen tossed the audience a few celebrity bones. He recalled an improbable prank played on John Cusack involving 3,000 angry bees in an Indianapolis hotel. He bowed down before Kiefer Sutherland’s “legendary bar tab.” And he paid tribute to Nicolas Cage: “The guy’s a genius and he went broke. I f**king love him.”
While Sheen lacks the focus to be an engaging storyteller, he did more or less follow through on a recollection of a flight to San Francisco with Cage. Discovering that there were FBI agents on board, Sheen allegedly was faced with the decision of flushing the ounce of coke he was carrying or stuffing it down his sweaty underwear. Luckily, the Feds were fans of both Platoon and Raising Arizona, so Sheen and Cage walked away unquestioned. The punchline of the story, and the alleged origin of a key term in Sheen’s vernacular, was Cage’s deadpan comment after the narrow escape: “How about that blonde stewardess? She was a f**king goddess.”
That gossipy tidbit might have been the most substantial part of the evening. Beyond that, it’s hard to say what the audience is getting out of all this. Rubbernecking at a life gone off the rails? Celebrating bad behavior? Living vicariously? The crowd was hardly better behaved than the one in Detroit, though the booing was more isolated and there was tepid applause rather than stunned indignation at the end.
“I’m a huge proponent of plan better,” responded Sheen to one heckler. “One example of plan better might be drink less and not come here and yell at the guy you’ve been waiting six weeks to see.” Maybe this tour is Sheen’s idea of planning better.
Seeking some perspective as the show ended, I turned to one of The Real Housewives of New York, Kelly Bensimon, in the seat in front of me.
“I’m not sure if he’s making more money doing this than doing the talk shows,” said Bensimon. “But it’s absurd. Is he really upset with CBS because they got fed up with his antics? Or is he playing everyone? I think he’s playing everyone.” Perhaps the real housewife, and not the fallen sitcom star, is the truth-teller here.
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