Courtesy of Tim Goodacre

First Day Off in a Long Time @ Steve Allen Theatre

[dropcap size=big]A[/dropcap]mong the great joys of this gig high on the list are:

  1. Seeing interesting performers
  2. Going to interesting places

So “seeing an interesting performer” at a really “interesting place”…well, to quote the old ad jingle, that’s “double your pleasure, double your fun.”

Brian Finkelstein is a really interesting performer, familiar to listeners of the Moth Story Telling Series and fans of the Upright Citizens Brigade. But my first introduction to him was through his solo show recently staged at The Steve Allen Theatre (more on that venue in a bit).

In “First Day Off in a Long Time” Finkelstein spins a spell-binding, scintillating, sophic spiel of working on a suicide hotline as a college student, and the fateful night that would follow him throughout his life like the shadow of his soul.

Finkelstein has an intriguing style, delivering his story in a staccato stammering fashion heavy with unending sentences. The effect is not what one would expect. Whether through strategy or by pure serendipity, Finkelstein’s presentational style seduces his listeners by demanding of them a greater participation with the tale he weaves.

The formula for excellence on stage has found no greater expression than in Michael Chekov’s Trinity of the theatre; it requires, he espouses, the merger of actor with material, actor with his fellow actor, and actor with his audience. The italics are mine, and they are not placed there to underscore the most essential element of the triangle, for they are all equally indispensable. But in a performance one can find emphasis.

Finkelstein’s style at first draws in his audience, by insisting we “prick up our ears” simply in order to follow the rythmatic truncations of his narrative.

But then something interesting happens.

We find ourselves joining with Finkelstein in a hyper intimacy, we become like that old couple who finishes each other’s sentences, and suddenly we are no longer an audience of strangers listening to a “story” being told on a stage in Hollywood, but are sitting next to Finkelstein in the cramp room so long ago at that stark table lined with phones beneath the bulletin boards with the sheets of protocol procedures tacked to them.

As he speaks, his words swell in us. He makes his sorrow and his loss our own. Finkelstein echoes the poet Donne, in reminding us we are all “involved in mankind”. And that’s what theatre is all about, constructing the communion of a community.

Finkelstein can be heard hosting the Moth Storytelling Series on KCRW, and you can follow him on twitter at @bsfinkelstein for upcoming performances.

And now a quick word about The Steve Allen Theater at the Center for Inquiry in Hollywood. Initially established with funding from Carl Sagan and Isaac Asimov to promote scientific investigation and rationalism, the Center entered a new arena in 2003 with the opening of the 99 seat Steve Allen Theater by Amit Itelman. Since then it has served as the venue for such productions as “Re-Animator The Musical” directed by Stuart Gordon, Jeffrey Combs’ solo performance as Edgar Allan Poe in “Nevermore”, and the first presentation of a Halloween “Hell house” with a secular humanistic bent. They also host a wide range of speakers.

If you’re unfamiliar with the Center, do yourself a service and check into it.

(Oh – a quick post script to Brian and his Missus – “Ernest” is really a wonderful name.)