WHATEVER MAN & PLOP
at the Elbo Room
Love is--you know, intoxicating. When you're reveling in it, everything is delightful and fun. You lose all perspective. Everything becomes self-referential. And that, I think, is what happened with Susan Messing and Matt Besser's Whatever Man & Plop, their two-person show at the Elbo Room.
These two are real-life lovers, and a lot of the stories they tell us in this show about their relationship are, well, the kind of stories only lovers find amusing. We just had to be there. Take, for example, the tale about how Besser first met Messing's family, under the worst possible circumstances: at her Aunt Ruth's funeral, after the unfortunate aunt had been bludgeoned with her own cane. No money was taken, relative after relative tells Besser.
No question about it, this story has some promise. The sheer absurdity of meeting a lover's family under such conditions is ripe for exposing emotional extremes, for making points about the insularity of many relationships, and for illustrating the surprise of discovering some new aspect of the lover. The aunt's demise also has comic possibilities.
But Messing and Besser do virtually nothing with all this. Besser introduces himself over and over to a series of Messing's relatives, finally telling one of them that he's a comedian--and that's when the lights go down, signaling the punch line. Because we don't know a thing about Messing's family we have no clue as to why the fact that her boyfriend is a comedian is amusing. And frankly, a comedian at a funeral is not in and of itself funny. It's unlikely anybody got it except Messing and Besser.
Whatever Man & Plop--the first part is derived from the customary conclusion to their spats, and the second is never explained--is the story of the couple's relationship so far (eight blissful months) played out on a set made to look like a bed. The two hold a press conference to announce that they're "more in love than any other couple in the world." The obvious similarity to John Lennon and Yoko Ono's bed-in isn't exactly lost, but not much is done with it. Besser and Messing realize that Lennon and Ono did their bit for a cause and acknowledge that they have no such commitment. "Susan has done the prochoice thing," Besser says, then tells us he thinks wars these days are too short to make them worth protesting.
About the only time some consciousness seems to arise is when Besser, stepping up into the spotlight, talks about anger. He's already confessed that his parents essentially support him, and now he bemoans his fate as a healthy heterosexual white male from a middle-class family. "If I fuck up, then it's entirely my fault," he says. "But if I succeed, I've had every advantage. That's my burden, and I don't want it." For a minute there the show had a chance of developing some depth.
Although Whatever Man & Plop is largely autobiographical, Messing and Besser also take on characters in skits unrelated to the main story. But even though they both have a certain charm and appeal--and Messing has real presence--these characters are wholly forgettable. These two may be decent performers, but there wasn't a lick of writing here worth the paper it was scribbled on.
While Messing and Besser seem to think that making jokes about their self-indulgence will justify the program's premise, it doesn't. Their relationship may seem wondrous to them, but they need more time, more perspective, and perhaps more experience--both as writers and as lovers--to turn this into something that's worth paying admission to see.