At a recent press-friendly performance of Coffee, a blonde woman in the first row took Bogosian's challenge literally and began to heckle him at such a pitch that the actor/performer had to stop the show, come to the lip of the stage, sit down, and ask her to be quiet. "Lady I've worked years on this piece and you are messing up my train of thought, please be quiet," Bogosian pleaded in so many words. Then, to the rest of the audience, he remarked: "Wouldn't you know I'd being performing in a theater with a bar?" The lady continued to heckle, obviously intoxicated; after several ushers tried unsuccessfully to get her to leave, she finally settled down and let Bogosian continue. Life imitates art...and it can get downright scary sometimes.
The tone and even the text of Wake Up and Smell the Coffee is reflected by the graphic on the cover of the show's Playbill: A pit bull with a spiked collar and a frayed leash, teeth at full growl, is about to pounce on a steaming cup of coffee. For nearly 90 minutes, Bogosian--the author of plays such as Suburbia and Talk Radio, and a master of the solo format--riles himself into a series of male characters that keep us locked in a performer/audience embrace akin to a group therapy session on hysterical male angst. Bogosian sends up, decimates, dissects, and makes fun of everything from a fey airline employee to a money-hungry, new-age infomercial guru to an oily Hollywood producer.
Crass, loud, rough, and sprinkled with blue words that attack like daggers, the performance distills several decades of male angst into an evening of near-symphonic ranting. Only Bogosian could get a laugh out of references to Lou Reed, Forrest Gump, and the Sundance Channel; his portrayal of Jesus as a street kid with an angry father is classic.
"Why I got into acting?" Bogosian asks. "The pain," he answers readily. Some other classic lines: "I have faith that shit happens" and "My God is a capricious little f**k." All this from a man who looks like your niece's groovy, second grade science teacher.
"How do I get more money," the new age guru asks straightforwardly. A monologue about a group of stressed out people standing in a VIP Gold Card line cuts right to the absurdity of the situation. Road rage also shows up in Coffee. And Bogosian can't resist taking a poke at our obsession with celebrity, pointing out that we live in a world where Kelsey Grammer's health problems get as much coverage as starving babies in the South Bronx.
Jo Bonney directs the show with the athletic oomph that she put into several of Bogosian's previous works. John Arnone's set takes the ratty old Jane Street Theatre stage and gives it a black sheen right out of Blade Runner. Kevin Adams' lighting makes Bogosian's electric blue eyes look even bluer, giving the performer the otherworldly, demented quality of an evangelist on Ecstasy.
Wake Up and Smell the Coffee will certainly keep you sitting forward and listening, though whether or not it will change your view of the world that can be argued. Eric Bogosian is not God, nor is he Nostradamus; he's just a smart, ready-to-rumble messenger for our time.