Something Something Über Alles (Das Jackpot)

Evidence that Moira Stone loves her husband very much
Evidence that Moira Stone must love her husband very, very much

I’ve kicked myself many a time over the past decade and a half (not daily, but more than once) for having missed Assurbanipal Babilla’s monologue Something Something Uber Alles (Das Jackpot) during its initial 1998-1999 run. There were many reasons for me to have been aware of it at the time. I wrote for director David Cote’s zine Off in those days and he certainly promoted the piece in its pages. And it was in the NYC Fringe Festival at the same time as my play Misshapen Jack: The Nebraska Hunchback (The awareness was enhanced when a few people pointed out similarities between the two shows at the time. Both are monologues, organized into three sections, from the point of an insane, Hitler-like man.) But even without the similarities (which I won’t call superficial, because I think there is a genuine affinity in the sensibilities) I would have been aware of the show: Mr. Babilla and his company Purgatorio Ink were well established, and the piece itself had terrific word-of-mouth. But still I missed it during its Fringe run, then its extension at the Kraine, and then even (unless my memory is faulty) in a subsequent revival. And then, two years ago, Mr. Babilla passed away, along with any opportunity to see any of his work while it was contemporary.

The affinity I mentioned above really refers to why I go to the theatre in the first place. There’s a documentary about NYC Fringe in the works at the moment and when I was interviewed on camera about my favorite kinds of plays to see in Fringe, my answer described something uncannily like this show: one actor with no net and no safety wire, taking us to a reality VASTLY different from the one we know, and thrilling us with his risk-taking along the way. And by risk taking, I mean REAL risk taking, not some tepid, conventional, faintly “edgy” confection that provides a diversion for the grannies as a digestif after lunch. I mean something that slaps you awake with a good, hard slap, something that risks disorienting and unsettling you, and makes you at least a little uncomfortable, like the feeling you can get when your subway car is suddenly stopped on a grade…and there’s this tension as you keep waiting for the thing to move forward and right itself.

In Something Something…we spend 90 minutes in the company of an apparent madman (played in the current production by Robert Honeywell) who claims to have been thrust into the center of a sordid international cult based entirely on his unfortunate resemblance to Adolph Hitler. His tale in turn is being related to us by the man’s friend, creating yet one more layer of unreliable narration. This isn’t the monologue’s only Chaucerian element; we have also the grotesquerie of the play’s character(s) and all manner of their appalling lower bodily productions, emanating from both the front and back ends. No detail is too ridiculous, extravagant, disgusting or unbelievable…and yet just enough of it appears objectively verifiable to tip our anti-hero over into madness. In the tale’s chilling last moments the hero’s utterances begin to sound like the disassociated ramblings of a schizophrenic, and then comes the dawning revelation that we have been privy to the kind of mental backstory that informs the babbling of the mentally ill on New York’s sidewalks and subway platforms.

We have been doing our fair share of raving about Honeywell’s acting lately. I was especially impressed by his work in two recent UTC #61 shows Lathe of Heaven and Vaclav Havel’s Hunt for a Pig. In the current piece, he demonstrates a lot of the same faculties I admired in those previous productions but at a higher, more sustained level (90 minutes solo). My admiration is mostly technical here. I don’t know how possible it is to actually be moved by any character in this story. Where he dazzles is in the wide variety of characters he portrays, (often changing on a dime), the many physical moments where he is able to integrate some of his clown training, and above all his absolutely unique ability to play a highly strung, overwrought character for long stretches without “playing crazy”, seeming fake, or even appearing tired. It’s all nailed down in specifics, a thousand moments, all strung together like a necklace made up of many-colored, often hideously clashing beads.

Cote serves both author and actor here by keeping his contribution invisible apart from his excellent work with Honeywell: a bare stage, a single metal chair for a prop, no costume changes, no superimposed, extraneous “bright ideas”. His most overt gesture is some lighting that evokes Albert Speer’s at Nuremberg. I’d have harsh words for any director who DIDN’T do that in this play. And come to think of it, the dank basement that is Under St. Marks makes a very nice stand-in for secret subterranean temple beneath the New York City subway system — provided that you have the good sense not to try to tart it up.

Where to go from here? I here and now publicly demand that Honeywell and Michael Gardner revive their production of Dostoyevsky’s Notes from the Underground, which I also missed 15 years ago and in its subsequent revival, strictly so that can have the pleasure of seeing it!

Something Something Uber Alles is at Under St. Marks through October 5. For tickets and more info go here.

2 comments

  1. Thanks for such an eloquent and thoughtful response, Trav! I’m glad you caught up with this amazing play. One slight clarification: the lighting design is by the wizardly Gregg Bellón, who did wonders with a limited plot. His micro-Nuremberg effects were of course logical, given the material, but also his invention. I was happy to stay out of his way. Also, the intricate and ominous sound design is by the equally gifted Chris Chappell. Only seven more shows left until Oct 5! https://tix.smarttix.com/Modules/Sales/SalesMainTabsPage.aspx?ControlState=1&DateSelected=&DiscountCode=&SalesEventId=2404&DC=

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