Curtain Calls XTRA

By John Quinn

Review: 'DudeMan'

Wise and witty, new play poses questions - but who has the answers?

'Twas a Friday night in May; temperature and humidity were more reminiscent of New Orleans than Detroit. What were all these people doing downtown? Well, the Tigers' bats were hot. The Greektown Art Festival was hot. Parking was not, but the theater beat had the heat taken up a notch with the premiere of Chad Kushuba's new work, "DudeMan," at the Abreact Performance Space, down the street from the Greektown casino.

"DudeMan" is a clever little piece in Theater of the Absurd tradition, and can be seen as homage to Big Daddy Samuel Beckett himself. It is a refreshing take on "Waiting for Godot."

Beckett often focused on the idea of "the suffering of being," and his characters in "Godot" are waiting for something to alleviate their boredom.

But Kushuba's comic reply to Beckett's angst is a welcome deviation from the predictable existential wallow in the suffering.

Our duo is Man, trapped, in a single, shabby living room, and Dude, his self-proclaimed "best friend," who not only can come and go as he pleases, but teases Man on his inability to do so. Boredom sure seems to be Man's worst enemy (wow, there's a profound epigram for you), as he moves from reading to writing, from art to chess, in search of relief from his stifling existence. Dude is at once his only companion and a thorn in his side, an acute accent to his helplessness. They bicker like an old married couple.

David P. Schoen brings memories of Zero Mostel with his portrayal of the boxed-in Man. He's the Everyman with whom the audience can identify. Burly and affable, as much a teddy bear as his stuffed companion on the couch, Schoen's quick facial expressions are the window of Man's soul: confused, bored, frightened, but ultimately able to rally to his own defense. And, boy, can this "Man" juggle!

Dude is a difficult character, but actor Stefan Mantyk gives him life. Dude is opaque, a little illogical (there's that absurdism again), and not an easy guy to like. There's no ready handle to grab on the character; on first meeting Dude, your reaction may well be, "Who the hell is this guy?" Is he a tormenting demon? Literally, is he the "best friend" from Hell? Is he the cantankerous muse to Man's artistic endeavors?

So who is Dude? For that matter, who is Man (again with the epigrams)? Dear friends, I'm not doing the heavy lifting for you - part of becoming sophisticate is making these determinations for yourself.

Absurdism is a free art form. The playwright makes suggestions; the audience draws conclusions. No one is giving out grades; feel free to get to work! But here's a hint: You're not sitting through the cynicism of post-war Europe, and "DudeMan" draws you to a gently upbeat, satisfying conclusion.

Take that, Sam!

"DudeMan" Staged Friday and Saturday by Aardvark Tim Productions at the Abreact Performance Space, 442 E. Lafayette, Detroit, through May 29, with a special closing performance on Sunday, May 30. Admission by donation. 313-378-5404.

{The Bottom Line: "DudeMan" is a welcome addition to Detroit's increasingly hip original theater scene.}


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