Joe Frank (03/13/2010)
To presume to review Joe Frank is somewhat to akin to being a happy floating paramecium—although I do tend to fancy myself more of a sleek euglena, and in reality might more resemble an amorphous and permeable amoeba—to be such a creature, swimming giddily or cluelessly drifting in a little globule of ooze, and to attempt to gaze up through the tensile surface of the liquid from beneath, through the intervening air, up through the lenses of the microscope in their black enamel encasement, although such microscopes may be but a relic of my youth, and then attempt to gaze into the infinite void of the black, empty iris of the scientist that evaluates you.
The Guardian UK has stated without hyperbole that "Joe Frank is by far the most brilliant comic in America... [He] has created a series of dead-pan radio monologues so sharp and intelligent that during the quiet bits you can almost hear God taking notes." On Saturday, March 13, Frank performed the monologue “An Ordinary Man” at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theater. I feel privileged to have been in the audience, to have experienced evidence that the source of all those hours of amazing interwoven words, ironic and passionate, diffident and incisive—all originated from one individual human being. I have listened to the eponymous one-hour broadcasts on the local public radio station for years. This particular piece is typical. The characters range from one true loves to bar room declaimers, hitchhikers performing sociological research, and drenched ex-wives. Amidst such a dense wave of information, wordplay, and fulsome darkness pierced by the absurd, themes can only be described in such broad terms as ‘meaning,’ ‘alienation,’ and ‘life.’
To listen to Joe Frank is to engage in a sublime existential voyeurism, but even that seems too clichéd, too puerile, too superficial, too glib a description, to be an accurate appraisal of the artiste. The word artiste, is, of course, itself, too odiously pretentious a word to be contained in this review, one that the performer himself would wisely excise or assign only to a pathetic, broken, character, a poseur, a person of lost hope who nonetheless persists, a person that we all have been. Perhaps an ordinary man.
Unfortunately, there are no upcoming performances by Joe Frank to recommend, but his recordings can be heard on public radio stations throughout the United States. Scheduled plays at the Steppenwolf this season include The Brother/Sister Plays, Adore, A Parallelogram, and Endgame, all fitting accompaniments to “Just An Ordinary Man” in a season in which the theater examines the contrasts between the public and private self.