David Rhodes in Rites of Privacy
(© Tom Contrino)
David Rhodes in Rites of Privacy
(© Tom Contrino)
Everybody keeps secrets. In David Rhodes' solo show, Rites of Privacy, currently at Urban Stages, the playwright/performer exposes the hidden details in the lives of a diverse array of characters. Unfortunately, the author fails to make his creations appealing, which results in a rather tedious evening of unenlightening theater.

There's fading Southern belle Clarinda, who divulges the truth behind her husband's death. Seamus, "the only Jew in Bethlehem, New Hampshire," shares a secret from his childhood involving his mentally challenged brother. Moishe details the survivor guilt he feels because he escaped the Holocaust. Susan, a doctor, gives a grisly account of a self-performed abortion. And a young gay immigrant known only as BOI4U2USE, tells the audience about some of his experiences. However, all of these monologues go on too long, and Moishe is the only one of the characters to be remotely sympathetic. Worse yet, there's very little humor in the script, meaning that the show chronicles one bleak story after another.

As a performer, Rhodes certainly has a lot of energy. He is also able to make each of his characters distinct from one another. Yet, he relies on stereotypical mannerisms to indicate age and gender, and since the writing itself lacks complexity, the performance as a whole comes across as rather flat.

Rhodes, director Charles Loffredo, and choreographers Eric Chan and Corey Hill have attempted to vary the rhythm and pacing by injecting a few dance sequences. However, these segments also go on too long, and sometimes don't even make any sense. Why, for example, does Susan dance to the Eurythmics' "Would I Lie to You?" While the song title may reinforce the show's theme of deception, the dance has no relation to Susan's monologue and seems completely out of character.

On the plus side, Rhodes has done an impressive job with the costumes, which he also designed. Each character has a completely different look, and he's crafted the individual outfits so that he can go from the dress worn by Clarinda to the plaid shirt and overalls look favored by Seamus in a matter of seconds.

The set design by Greg Emetaz consists primarily of a dressing room table, where Rhodes literally gives himself a make-over between characters, talking to the audience as himself. These sections are the most engaging, although the writer/performer tends to bring up provocative material without following through on its implications. In particular, his responses to the deaths of his Chinese housekeeper and child psychiatrist seem rife with unexplored toxicity.

Rhodes seems to be under the impression that sharing the secrets of his characters and himself is sufficient. However, the harder and more rewarding dramatic possibilities lie in showing how these secrets have impacted the lives of those involved.