Ben Rimalower won critical acclaim (along with MAC and Bistro Awards) for his 2012 solo show, Patti Issues, about his obsession with Broadway's brassiest diva and the ways she helped guide his upbringing. Since then, he's toured the show around the globe while Robin De Jesús took over his role at The Duplex. Now he's back on home turf with a new show about his ongoing troubles with managing cash, simply titled Bad With Money.
TheaterMania spoke with Rimalower about the show, the high he gets from swiping his plastic, and some of the jobs he's taken to support his habit.
What is Bad With Money?
Bad With Money is my new solo play…my new mono-drama, if you will. It explores my history with an addiction to spending beyond my means. The addiction perspective is one I've taken in the last few years. I went to rehab and got sober of alcohol and drugs, which was relatively easy for me, by comparison. Money, however, is something I realize I've been dealing with all my life without much success. It's taken me out of the realm of healthy and smart behavior. I wanted to talk about it.
What are some of the things you've spent money on that you've later regretted?
It's the day-to-day things. I get a high from shopping. It doesn't matter if I'm spending a thousand dollars on clothes or if I'm spending fifteen at Duane Reade. I get this rush and I feel guilty. Even when I go to the supermarket and buy bread and milk, I walk out feeling like I did something evil. The extremes have been more the ways I've gotten money.
A lot of the standard stuff: I've gotten into all kinds of credit-card debt at various times in my life. For that reason, my credit has been terrible since I was twenty years old. Not having credit, I've done all kinds of weird other things: writing bad checks, kiting checks from one account to another to the point where I spent several years without a bank account because I was on a blacklist. When I was in college I was a prostitute for a while. That was old-school. It was not good. It was very dangerous. I was just trying to support my habit.
Is this addiction to retail therapy (and willingness to do anything to sustain it) a larger trend in America?
Absolutely. It's everywhere. When I was a kid, there was a TV show called Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. Now that's every single show on TV. Teresa Giudice of Real Housewives of New Jersey and her husband are facing major prison time for millions of dollars in fraud. It all started after the show began. I'm not saying they're victims, but they were trying to support this image on Bravo. That's really a reflection of where our whole culture is. I'm not trying to separate myself from it. This show is me trying to understand why I suffer from this and make it worse for myself. Every time I get a break, I wind up digging myself deeper.
What drives you toward this confessional style of theater?
The therapeutic aspect of exploring my demons draws me into a particular topic, but I would never put a show onstage that I didn't think was for the audience. It has to be a piece of proper entertainment. If I tell a story that I already know all the answers to, I don't think that's very compelling. Something that I'm still in the midst of has real electricity.
Have you been chastened by the recession, or are you still racking up credit-card debt?
Both. I'm still suffering, but I've also been chastened. I can't say that it's been the recession that's chastened me as much as getting older and running out of people to borrow money from. I'm thirty-eight and I'm getting tired of living hand to mouth, of always having a disaster looming or a crisis. I don't want to live this way. As long as I was drinking and taking drugs, I could always suppress that desire to get healthier with money. Since getting sober, my eyes are open to the reality of my life. That's where my real desire to change began.