Ken Johnson wants to teach you the secrets to his success. Unfortunately, he just isn’t that successful. This is the premise of Laura Zam’s play An Hour With Ken Johnson, which, just as unfortunately, is as unsuccessful as its main character.
Zam plays the enthusiastic and over-the-top Southern-preacher-turned-salesman-turned-motivational-speaker who is determined to use his hour to sell you his bill of goods. This would be an interesting idea for a short sketch, or even maybe a 15 minute one-act, but there is not nearly enough to say here to justify the full hour.
I just don’t know why writer/performer Zam and director Jessica Lefkow thought we needed a whole show parodying bad motivational speakers by presenting a bad motivational speech. The play, while well written, clearly rehearsed, and enthusiastically performed, doesn’t seem to have much of anything to say. It’s an interesting character study, but I left wondering why the playwright thought I needed to see it.
Since it was a solo show, there is not much to talk about besides Zam’s performance. Her portrayal of Ken Johnson is certainly animated and occasionally captivating, even though it was rarely convincing.
You can tell that she has thought a lot about how to portray a man, which makes me all that much more disappointed that I just couldn’t buy it. Her portrayal was just a little too cartoonish. It felt more like watching a little kid pretend to be a grown-up. I know that Zam may well have been going for caricature in the service of her parody, but in order for a caricature to work, there must be something recognizably human underneath the blown up attributes. Underneath Ken Johnson’s delivery was just more silliness. Again, this may have been what Zam was shooting for, but it didn’t work for me.
The show was far from bad. I would not discourage anyone from seeing it, but I also wouldn’t actively encourage it. It was mostly a case of a good performer playing with bad material. There just was not enough here to justify an hour show and, by the end, I was bored.
Ken Johnson might want to motivate me to become the person I’ve always dreamed I could be, but I can’t say that I was moved do much at all. I guess I’ll keep dreaming.
An Hour with Ken Johnson has 3 more performances at the Goethe Institut, 812 7th Street NW, Washington, DC.
Josh rates this a 2 out of a possible 5.