LIVE: Loudon Wainwright III’s “Surviving Twin” @ The Egg, 10/2/15
Review by Steven Stock
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
Loudon Wainwright III’s moving performance at The Egg’s Swyer Theatre last Friday was a one-man show and yet also a collaboration, alternating songs with dramatic readings of columns originally written for Life Magazine by Loudon Wainwright Jr., along with a brief film and some family snapshots. “Surviving Twin: A Posthumous Collaboration” delved into heavy themes – family ties and tensions, the birth of a son, the loss of a beloved pet, facing mortality – with a light touch, not so much tugging heartstrings as plucking them gently.
The staging was minimal: a sturdy wooden chair with a ukulele case behind it on an old rug, to the left a well-tailored suit hanging on a rack, to the right an acoustic guitar and a grand piano at the back. Just enough to suggest a man at ease in his parlor, an impression reinforced as a genial Wainwright III waved in a few late-arriving guests.
Opening song “Surviving Twin” found Wainwright III reflecting on affinities shared with his
father, serving to state the evening’s theme before he moved onto the first of seven readings from Wainwright Jr.’s work. To call them readings is an injustice really: Wainwright III doesn’t just recite these columns, he inhabits them, every studied pause and emphatic inflection virtually reanimating his deceased father. Wainwright III has an impressive acting resume (credits include “Ally McBeal,” “The Aviator,” “Big Fish,” “Knocked Up,” “Pump Boys and Dinettes” and “Undeclared”), and these performances rank with his finest dramatic work.
As the son’s songs alternate with the father’s essays, the impulse to look for similarities in their approach becomes well-nigh irresistible. Both use humor effectively, whether it’s Jr. capturing every subtle nuance of a circumspect English tailor in “Disguising the Man” or Wainwright III breaking out the ukulele to welcome his newborn son Rufus with 1974’s “Dilated to Meet You.” They’re both masterful at parceling out just enough detail to convince you of their honesty and create a sense of intimacy, yet they share a certain reserve. Jr.’s “Mad about Maps” isn’t really about maps at all, but rather an elliptical peek at impending mortality.
Pacing was one essential element of the show’s success. Twice Wainwright III performed two songs in a row, and the short film “A Trip To St. Andrew’s” was screened a third of the way in, all of which served to keep the festivities from falling into a predictable rhythm of song/essay, song/essay.
Just as important were the shifts in tone. The evening’s darkest moment, Jr.’s column about having to put the family’s dog down, was followed by “Man & Dog,” a hilarious romp through the urban landscape featuring some of Wainwright III’s most inspired doggerel.
Turn-out for the evening was a bit disappointing, but what the audience lacked in numbers it made up for with attentiveness. Whether it was the quality of the show or the advanced age of many of the attendees, this was a rare audience that actually sat and watched rather than playing with their damn cell phones. After Wainwright III performed the closing number “In C” not the Terry Riley “In C,” for better or worse) on the grand piano, he was rewarded with a well-deserved standing ovation.
Greg Haymes’ review at The Times Union
“SURVIVING TWIN: A POSTHUMOUS COLLABORATION”
“Life With – And Without – Father” (LW2)
“Disguising the Man” (LW2)
I Knew Your Mother
“The Sum of Recollections Just Keeps Growing” (LW2)
“A Trip to St. Andrew’s” (film)
Bein’ a Dad
Letters, 1942-45 (LW2)
“Fathers Day” (LW2)
Dilated to Meet You
A Father and a Son
“Another Sort of Love Story” (LW2)
Man & Dog
“Mad About Maps” (LW2)
“Chasing Away the Ghosts of Christmases Past” (LW2)