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Bad With Money

Ben Rimalower brings his latest confessional to The Duplex.

Ben Rimalower stars in his solo show Bad With Money, directed by Aaron Mark, at The Duplex.
(© Dustin Mark)

Confessional stand-up is a tricky genre. It requires a fair amount of frothiness when discussing serious topics to make sure your audience doesn't turn into your therapist. Ben Rimalower has a new solo show, Bad With Money, at The Duplex in which he divulges some disturbing episodes from his life as well as more than a few behavioral issues that he is — he admits — still wrestling with. That would be fine if Rimalower could take those experiences and squeeze the funny out of them for all they're worth, but he seems to lack the emotional distance from his story to tell it with self-reflective humor rather than merely candor.

Rimalower makes a grand entrance singing Judy Garland's "I'd Like to Hate Myself in the Morning," which quickly sets the evening's gauzily self-deprecating tone. "I've always related to Judy Garland as a fellow alcoholic," he tells us, before mentioning that he also shares her propensity for taking on massive debt. Rimalower then launches into a breathless hour about his money-related woes, from his first word as a child, "bah-mis" ("buy me this"), to his chronic borrowing from friends and relatives. This compulsion to buy things and his perennial pennilessness lead to his stint as a prostitute, his descent into drug and alcohol addiction, and thousands of dollars worth of credit card fraud, a crime for which he was never charged.

Bad With Money is best in its opening moments, when Rimalower talks about his childhood and his quirky family members, unwitting enablers such as his Grandma Dotty, who would give him anything to keep him quiet, or his Grandpa Paul, whom Rimalower frequently hit up for "petty cash." He has a knack for quickly creating mental images of these relatives and making them seem familiar. Alas, they disappear almost as soon as we meet them.

Not that Rimalower doesn't have a talent for poking fun at himself, but sometimes when the playwright is too close to the painful events he describes — the prostitution, betrayals of friends, financial debacles and thefts — it's hard to find the comedy in these situations. As the past catches up with the present, the show's laughs come less frequently. "I'm just vomiting up war stories," he says. "I'm standing here telling you this story, but I'm still stuck in it." If that's the case, it's not hard to see how Bad With Money may be helping Rimalower come to terms with his troubled past. The theater does indeed have the power to heal, but that should include the audience too.