Michael Aronov in Manigma
(© Larry Gumpel)
Michael Aronov in Manigma
(© Larry Gumpel)
In a season crowded with solo shows comes Michael Aronov's Manigma, now at the Clurman Theater, a one-man exploration of six characters who are meant to represent different facets of the actor-playwright's personality. Aronov is a dynamic performer who revels in pushing boundaries and, occasionally, making his audience uncomfortable. But much of his work here doesn't rise satisfactorily above the level of stereotype.

One exception is Sasha, a lonely Eastern European muscle man with Old World ideals of respect and self-sacrifice and a refreshingly honest view of himself. For example, he's not afraid to admit his discomfort with gay people; but in a charming moment of self-effacement, he observes how the structure of his hands compares to his beloved father's. "Mine are like his," he notes, fondly, "but a miniature woman's version." Sasha's feminine ideal, incidentally, is Marilyn Monroe in a long, conservative dress -- sexy and confident, but respectful and mysterious.

A little of that mystery and dimension would actually have been welcome in some of Aronov's other characters. That would include a slam poet who preaches a predictable gospel that is equal parts "Scared Straight" and class revolt, and a couple of archetypically nerdy guys: one is a slightly creepy penny collector who delivers his monologue while sitting on a toilet, while the other is an insecure young man with his pants yanked up above the waist who is fond of self-help mantras.

We also meet Rick, a wild, hedonistic character who has the audience in titters as he proclaims, "Celebrate this earth!" while flicking lint from his navel. Aronov seems to be attempting to conjure a ravenous, Dionysian figure here, exhorting us to embrace life. But when all is said and done, Rick merely comes across as a one-dimensional jerk trying too hard to shock us.

Even Chacha, a Jewish drag performer who describes herself as a "cocky whore," offers nothing particularly new to that character type, although she gets in a saucy wisecrack here and there. Chacha's back story has its moments, such as her wry acknowledgment of the men (including her father) who molested her as a child, "making me, shaking me into an artist that no one can touch." But when she muses that she might have dated ladies were it not for those abusive men, a little more of a complex follow-up to that controversial thought would have been welcome.

Still, the disco remix of Jewish folk music that blasts across the stage after Chacha's appearance is fun. Indeed, the music design, which Aronov created himself in collaboration with award-winning film composer David Majzlin, is one of the most impressive facets of this otherwise mundane show.