When John Hefner steps on to the stage, you have to believe there was a mix up at the last name factory. With his thinning hair and a thickening midsection, Hefner’s appearance from the beginning suggests he’s not a silk robe and slippers kind of guy. With a lispy high-pitched voice and a lot of awkward hand flailing, he has the sort of anti-charisma one would expect from a man who runs a comic book shop and hosts first dates in his own home – that he shares with his mother. From the beginning, Hefner plays up his status as the black sheep of the white bunny family.
Admittedly, I cringed in the beginning of this show. I had no idea how this nerdy, neurotic man-boy was going to carry a solo performance. But a funny thing happened on the way to that train wreck: A storyteller emerged. Somehow Hefner, for all his Green Lantern references and self-inflicted crotch wounds, manages to do something incredibly brave – tell his story. Through various anecdotes, often involving his own ineptitude concerning intimacy, we see the figure of a man in peril start to emerge. What starts out as a humorous quip from a college buddy – “That’s so Hefnerian” – turns into an all-consuming quest for individuality and identity, one that explores his botched attempts at love and self-improvement, his relationship to his parents, and much more.
Hefner understands the power of a story. He weaves in and out of each one with incredible attention to detail, but without wallowing in sentimentality. All the tales told, from the mundane to the heart-wrenching, speak to the bigger cause of what it means to narrate one’s own life. The power of being able to look back and determine the “why” of things past, and what it means when that self-constructed personal history is challenged or dramatically changed by forces beyond ones control. And on the way there, to define what “Hefnerian” really means.
The show isn’t perfect. Hefner’s relationship to the third wall is at times jarring – an early question about what goes in to a tequila sunrise made me feel a bit like eighth grader that hadn’t finished today’s chapter of Lord of the Flies. The one prop – a bowler hat – sits enigmatically on the table for an entire hour before getting used. And Hefner’s constant pacing and gesturing early on strayed towards distracting. However, as far as one-man shows go, this is certainly a gem. His story is incredibly personal and yet universal – a tale of identity in the 21st century. If you’re someone who feels like the storyteller has died at the hands of blogging and IMs, John Hefner’s play will certainly convince you otherwise.
- Running time: 70 minutes
- Tickets: The Hefner Monolgues
- Remaining Show: Thurs, July 24 at 8:30
- Where: DC Arts Center, 2438 18th Street NW