George Brant has always had a dry wit--more often than not, too dry for his own good. His instinct is to underplay even when he's parodying something ripe for comic skewering, like A.R. Gurney's Love Letters, a strategy that worked only part of the time in Lovely Letters. But Brant's comic style can look more like inhibition than a performance choice, which distances him from an audience that might want to know a bit more about the man behind the funny act. All those handicaps disappeared in Brant's solo show One Hand Clapping, premiered in 1999 and now being revived. Passion and sorrow begin to seep into his often too cerebral approach as Brant plays a character not far removed from himself, a sometime actor, sometime solo performer who yearns for acceptance and success and never gets it. What makes Brant's show hilarious, of course, is not this litany of failure but how hard he works to make his mediocre life seem heroic. Again and again he sets himself up as a great actor only to win an extremely minor role in the school play or earn a series of "career stunting" bad reviews in the Reader, turns that are very funny in a weird sadomasochistic way. But the real magic comes near the end, when after 40 minutes of laughing at Brant we suddenly find ourselves laughing with him--at his chronic bad luck, absurd life, and the fact that even when he opens up his heart onstage, sharing his every flaw and disappointment, he can't get a fictional critic in the audience to look up from his pad of paper. Athenaeum Theatre, second-floor studio theater, 2936 N. Southport, 312-902-1500. Through February 16: Fridays-Saturdays, 9:30 PM. $10.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Bob Levy.