DON'T BURN MY HOUSE, at SweetCorn Playhouse. One of the most impressive aspects of Cleetus Friedman's one-man show is his recognition of the value of hip-hop music in storytelling and performance. He bookends Don't Burn My House with a pair of original raps, and the show's strongest, most incisive bit may be a short sketch about a Milquetoast disk jockey that offers a biting explanation of the proper use of the terms "nigga" and "nigger." But Friedman has a long way to go before he can match a performer like Danny Hoch. Friedman gets great mileage out of poking fun at gangsta tropes (malt liquor, sexual prowess), but he only begins to scratch the surface of the culture, while Hoch looks at the larger picture, critiquing how white, middle-class America has appropriated hip-hop cliches.
Still, Don't Burn My House is a remarkable first effort. Friedman has obviously learned a thing or two about versatility at Improv-Olympic, and he's wisely crafted this show as a vehicle for the repertoire of characters he's developed over the past couple of years. For the most part, his oddball creations--including a wizened drag queen and a dorky 28-year-old virgin--are strong, but his monologues are in need of subtle editing and refinement. Already relating personal experiences with charm and candor, Friedman will develop into a truly sophisticated performer when he adds consistency and experience to the mix.