Most poised adults wouldn’t want to tell a crowd about the time they purposely peed their pants in the 5th grade. Of course, most people aren’t Adam Ruben, and his laugh-worthy one man show Please Don’t Beat Me Up: Stories and Artifacts from Adolescence is a rollicking reminiscence of life from the grade-school nerd’s point of view.
As Ruben cautions, you’re not a loser if you’re bullied once, only if you’re bullied every day. And from the endless amount of evidence Ruben gives to prove his own dorkdom, it’s easy to believe him. From homemade movies to reading out of a third grade diary, the mixed-media presentation made sure there was never a dull moment in Ruben’s performance.
One reason is that Ruben didn’t try to jazz up his material, but rather recognized his schoolboy treasures for how funny they already were. Reading aloud in a matter-of-fact way while sneaking in snide commentary, Ruben achieves a skillful balance of truthfully telling about his past while confidently mocking it in the present.
And his adolescent self is plenty funny, delightfully honest and puerile even when shoving a wad of used gum at a video camera. The evidence speaks for itself, and Ruben has plenty of it.
Yet another reason Ruben succeeds is due to his own adult nature. Witty, smart (he’s a molecular biologist) and friendly, he doesn’t hide the man he has grown up to be or how that man derived from the awkward boy he was. While many one-man shows feature portrayals of multiple caricatures, Ruben is unique in his introspective, almost cathartic focus. It feels honest as he ridicules his kid self. Ruben tries to connect to the audience as if he’s holding a one-on-one conversation with them, a one-way swap of old, hilarious stories. And the approach works.
The props, aided by Kenneth Lee’s technical design, almost oust Ruben as the star of the show. The cluttered stage haphazardly arranges books, stuffed animals, even Ruben’s old school ID. This is in front of a much-used projector screen, giving even more reasons to laugh with plenty of visual aids. Ruben moves comfortably and naturally around this stage, picking up toys and pointing to movies without a hint of embarrassment. Even when technology flaws pop up, he remains cool under pressure.
When it comes to storytelling, Adam Ruben is a pro. His grade school peers may not have appreciated his talents, but adult audiences should flock to see this gifted performer while they can!
Please Don’t Beat Me Up … has 4 more performances at the Wonderbox, 629 New York Ave NW, Washington, DC.