Not everyone got the kind of name that looks good on a marquee or sounds good in the sentence ” … and the award for best actor goes to …”. And let’s all just admit it now: no one really knew how to pronounce “Gyllenhaal” till several movies in, and even then it took TWO siblings to get the world to say it properly. Twenty years later Demi Moore still has 50% of the population putting the accent on the wrong syllable.
So. Now imagine that you’re not that famous at all. Nowhere near. And you’re given a name that everyone mispronounces or mistakes for another name upon hearing it. Wouldn’t you change your name too? You would if you were Moe Rosen, writer and performer of I’m Only Explaining This Once, his solo-show currently playing at the Red Room.
Moe Rosen – that’s his new name, folks – seemed to have a long, uncomfortable relationship with his original name. I will not rob future audiences the ah-ha moment of hearing Moe’s given name from his own lips, but I will go so far as to say it’s actually not as uncommon as, say, Rumpelstiltskin and if you’ve lived in New York chances are you’ve heard it before and may even know one or two of your own. (I actually do.) But Moe’s story isn’t so much about the name as it is about his family’s complete inability to actually zero in on where the name came from.
Rosen uses pre-recorded video interviews with his parents to start a dialogue. Both mom and dad (shown separately) have their unintentionally comedic moments as they contradict themselves and each other. Moe gleefully points these moments out as well as moves the narrative along. Without a doubt Rosen’s father emerges as the star of the piece; Rosen Sr. waves away the past with a wry smile and -when pressed on how involved he was with choosing Moe’s name- insists “Well I wasn’t really a part of that. I just wanted a child”. It’s rather adorable.
The convoluted back-story of Moe’s moniker has to do with being named after a great-grandfather who died in the Holocaust. That name, however, was Hebrew, so Rosen’s mom went with the “English version” of the name … though that name turned out to be Israeli. “It could have been anything,” the father insists, rattling off several (more common) similar “English versions” of the name. “I just wanted a child” he repeats.
Overall Moe’s earnestness is sweet, the story is funny, and the filmed bit of his parents (which include further back-story about Moe’s grandparents) have unexpected moments of humor that are all the funnier for the gravity with which they are related. The piece did, however, begin a bit slowly, and much of the first bits of interviews consist of Moe asking the same question over and over again, as his parents give the same answer. While it’s amusing, it starts losing its freshness after the 3rd, 4th and 5th repetition. (Asked and answered – counsel is badgering the witness.)
Soon enough Moe moves on and the pacing rights itself – but I would suggest trimming a little from the top, especially in order to stay true to the “once” of the title. I think this show could easily clock in at 35 minutes and still be as funny – if not more so.
Ultimately, Moe Rosen is a likable guy with a story to tell. He comes from funny stock, that’s obvious, and he’s continuing the family tradition. With a little trimming and faster pacing I’m Only Explaining This Once is sure to entertain audiences for as long as Moe continues to explain.