Clowns, Goddesses & tough guys, at Live Bait Theater. With his cockiness, polished delivery, melodious singing voice, and knack for crafting listenable pop tunes reminiscent of Billy Joel and Randy Newman, James Schneider is certainly capable of carrying a one-man show. The one thing that detracts from his 90-minute collection of autobiographical songs and monologues is his showbiz polish, which makes even the most heartfelt of anecdotes seem somewhat disingenuous. Under Jeremy Wechsler's overprecise direction, there's hardly a movement or vocal inflection in Schneider's confessional that doesn't seem carefully planned. Though the show's PR materials invite comparison with Spalding Gray and Tom Waits, Schneider never approaches their honesty or idiosyncrasy.
Schneider is witty and affecting when he discusses his adolescent autograph-hunting encounters, and the one spontaneous moment in the show, when he calls upon audience members to test his knowledge of American presidents, is genuinely funny. But his self-consciously naive narration and fascination with trivia, most notably lousy 70s TV shows, are wearying. One keeps hoping for something more profound than these glib reminiscences, but Schneider's songs and stories never venture beyond elementary observation and self-analysis. --Adam Langer