Rubicon Theater Productions, at Urbus Orbis.
When Spalding Gray sat at a desk and sipped a glass of water during Swimming to Cambodia some years back, it was riveting. But when Chicago writer Michael McColly meanders around the Urbus Orbis stage in a monologue seemingly modeled on Gray's, one's focus often shifts away from him to the set, the floor, one's watch. Even pouring a glass of water seems an affectation when McColly does it.
But he's not a bad writer. His recollections of a Peace Corps stint in Senegal ("mange fe rekk" is a Wolof greeting meaning "I am here only") are layered with witty anecdotes and wry social commentary reminiscent of Gray's "stranger in a strange land" experiences. McColly is funny and insightful when he discusses his gung-ho Peace Corps comrades gleefully wallowing in their discontent or when he relates a hilariously surreal adventure: joining Senegalese villagers to watch the Village People sing "Macho Man" on a black-and-white TV.
The monologue feels unfinished, though, jerking from one anecdote to the next, then stopping suddenly after a belabored memory of becoming one with Mother Africa while swimming naked through oozing mud. And McColly doesn't help his cause as a performer, stumbling over his lines even when he's reading from his own journal. Despite the intimate surroundings he's unable to establish any rapport with the audience, delivering much of his monologue squinting at points in space (or at the video camera recording the proceedings on the night I attended). A great deal more structure and a charismatic professional performer could help this material immeasurably. But right now, you'd be better off calling it "Staggering to Senegal."