By Josh Lefkowitz
Produced by Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company
Reviewed by Janice Cane
Now What? easily could have been named What Are You Doing?, because writer/performer Josh Lefkowitz is constantly being asked that question. Mostly by his girlfriend, sometimes by his agent, wondering about his next project, but occasionally by the starving third-world child conjured by his liberal guilt during his many moments of creative and romantic angst.
You want to feel bad for the guy in those moments, but you can’t because they’re so damn funny. And that’s exactly why Josh writes about them. He is obeying the incessant inner voice that keeps chanting, “Maybe you should write about this.”
And so Josh whirls through a hilarious but touching monologue about living his American dream-to stave off the dreaded table-waiting day job as long as possible and get invited up to attractive girls’ apartments (even though he can’t accept those invitations). Josh first achieved his dream last fall with Help Wanted, and Woolly Mammoth is enabling him to continue the dream with his premiere of Now What?. Not too shabby for a 26-year-old.
In fact, Josh is clearly a talented wordsmith, and his exuberance onstage is infectious. A simple walk through his Brooklyn neighborhood takes us on hilarious side streets about two brothers with two very different names, a high school home economics project gone awry, and a distressing conversation with dead writers. My favorite part, though, came in the form of two surprisingly insightful thugs on the subway. They may represent an especially low moment in real life, but it is a high point on stage.
My only real complaint is that I missed my chance to see Help Wanted. It’s like reading a good book and then wanting to read the author’s previous works, except I can’t. Woolly Mammoth is selling the two scripts together, but I decided to hold out for a memoir or novel, which I have no doubt is lying in wait somewhere in Josh’s psyche.
In Now What?, Josh talks about living in Brooklyn with his girlfriend. Generally, things are great, but they do have their problems, with fears about the future getting wrapped up in fidelity issues. On top of all that, Josh has to satisfy an eager agent and theater company-Woolly Mammoth-when all he can manage to churn out is dreaded poetry.
Josh is consumed by a need to succeed, not just to avoid restaurant work, but to replace his self-doubt with that more euphoric feeling, self-worth. Critics and audiences loved Help Wanted?, so that means they loved him, right? Josh craves the power of autobiography, but he acknowledges it can be destructive. He feels like he is watching life instead of living it. I think theater critics, to whom Josh ascribes so much power, can relate to this. Watching a show, I am always thinking, “How can I write about this?”
Watching this particular show, I was mostly wondering what Josh will write next-just like his agent. Sorry to add pressure; I’m just eager to hear more. And so I’ll use my so-called power to urge readers to see Now What?. For one evening, you can step into someone else’s hectic, frustrating, funny, sweet life. Not too shabby for 18 bucks.
(Running time: 1:20, no intermission) Playing through November 25 in the Melton Rehearsal Hall at Woolly Mammoth Theatre, 641 D Street N.W., Washington, DC. Performances are Thursdays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 7 p.m. Tickets are $18. Call 202-393-3939 or visit http://www.woollymammoth.net/.