Nothing can prepare you for the charismatic juggernaut of Ron Litman and his relentless musical rant on all the things that drive Americans insane. Crazy in America starts with silent banter (oddly reminiscent of Laurel and Hardy) that leaves the audience in stitches before the show even formally begins. It then pulls into full gear when Tom Pile lays his fingers to the piano and Litman revs up his engine with a wicked harmonica routine that provides the backbone for 60 minutes of non-stop satire and charm.
What starts as frenetic ravings on the little things that Litman can’t stand about living as “a Jewish man of a certain age” develops into social and political satire that also manages to motivate the audience into a state of exaltation and action. Litman begins our journey by staging a dialogue between him and his therapist where he’s told to “let go of the little things in life.” Litman retorts “I only have control of the little things!”
Ron Litman’s amusing imitations and impersonations propel the story forward, complete with full costume changes done in real time. His spunky delivery, quick patter, and deft comic timing, allow for an easy connection with the audience that keeps us on the edge of our seats. Litman brings us along a narrative of venting and advice-seeking through songs and conversations with people he has met, all played by himself. These friends include his pill-obsessed mad scientist of a doctor, the laid-back street-sense hippy Rabbi Israel Bornstein, and a tour of Supreme Court justices.
The songs run a gamut of styles, from American blues to driving rock to pop takes on classic folk songs. Composed by Pile with lyrics by Litman, these songs weave the show together and break up the nearly repetitive rantings by our peripatetic leading man. Many of the songs include moments of audience interaction which tickled the crowd and elicited lots of enthusiasm.
Crazy in America
Written and performed by Ron Litman
Details and tickets
The topics are wide-ranging, from overmedication to existential crises, and from politics and religion to nutrition and self-empowerment. As finding meaning among endlessly debatable issues can be elusive, the narrative also finds itself elusive, and closer to a montage. But the entertainment value of costumes, props, songs, and engaging projections (also by Pile), all keep the pace lively and the subject matter not that deeply mined.
The second half of the show veers into political satire, including spoofs of the Supreme Court. The songs turn from original melodic compositions to riffs on American folk songs such as O Suzannah, Camptown Races, and others. Satire can be tricky business, and there are a few faux pas, missteps involving terms such as “black power” and “minstrel shows” but putting a bold foot forward can often pay off unexpectedly. Their songs play around the power dynamics in the justice system with timely lyrics such as “White is right. / It wasn’t right? / Look away” and “Read them their rights. / Then punch out their lights. / Anytime you want” After the recent altercations involving Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, these buoyant, searing ironic jams left the audience surprisingly stirred.
The sheer energy and enthusiasm Crazy In America embodies are impressive in their own right. And if you relate to the concerns of “a Jewish man of a certain age” then not only will you be in good company, but you will be singing along, popping candy pills, and rollicking in your seat. The duo’s debut of this show brought the audience to their feet immediately. I hope it brings you as well.
Crazy In America Written and performed by Ron Litman. Musical direction and accompaniment by Tom Pile. Lighting and Sound by Eric Sherman. Video/Photo montage by Tom Pile. Stage Managed by Hannah Litman. Reviewed by Tyler Herman