Actor Sean Derry is working in overdrive in the rude, crude, in-your-face yet thought-provoking one-man show Pounding Nails in the Floor With My Forehead at None Too Fragile Theater.
The one-man show by Eric Bogosian, created in 1994, has been updated in spots by Derry with references to President Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi and even Miley Cyrus. The playwright performed the original work in Greenwich Village, starting the show out with an on-air DJ talking about the kinder, gentler time of 1954 40 years earlier, when the wife wore a gingham apron and made breakfast every morning, the husband wore a suit and the children were dressed impeccably and well-behaved. In this “world without problems,” there are “no victims, no sexual harassment, no worries about the environment … Everybody’s working. Everybody’s straight. Everybody’s happy.”
Fast forward to today, with Derry placing the monologue in the Obama era rather than the Clinton era. The DJ character is led into a frightening world dominated by drugs, celebrity worship and entitlement programs. This is the new America, and the rest of the play is spent questioning how we got there and why.
Interestingly, these questions are just as valid nearly 20 years later as they were in 1994.
Of course, in Bogosian’s play — his fifth solo show — he’s romanticizing the 1950s. Things may have seemed perfect then because nobody spoke out. But the juxtaposition between the two eras is telling.
Pounding Nails, whose title alone is a commentary on the playwright’s frustration with modern-day culture, questions the inequities in today’s society, between the smelly bum on the subway and the billionaire who’s obsessed with grilling out at his country estate.
At the same time, Bogosian observes that Americans from all walks of life share a culture of fear, anger and hypocrisy. The playwright doesn’t have any answers; he just asks the questions.
Derry, who has made Pounding Nails one of his signature pieces, performed the solo work two times previously for The Bang and the Clatter Theatre, in 2007 and 2008. At his new theater in the Merriman Valley, he’s as raw as it gets, especially as the bum who defiles himself on the subway and talks about infecting others with the disease of fear in the monologue “Molecules,” and later as a vitriolic drug dealer describing drug-enhanced sex.
Tucked in amid the diatribes that make up most of the 10 monologues, Derry switches gears to play a falsely reassuring doctor who describes side effects from a drug treatment that sound worse than the original disease. Through Bogosian’s perverse lens, Derry also plays a “recovering male” who must apologize for his very malehood, and also comically conjures a self-help guru who encourages his audience to get in touch with their “inner baby.”
That monologue’s all about self-absorption, another pointed indictment of hypocritical Americans who are blind to others’ needs.
Most of the characters bring out thought-provoking points. But interestingly, the monologue that doesn’t work as well as the others is one where Bogosian originally presented a manic version of himself, talking as a sort of stand-up comic to the audience. Here, Derry portrays a ranting comic who keeps insisting he’s not angry.
Pounding Nails in the Floor With My Forehead, full of crude language and ire, isn’t for the faint of heart. The piece has its share of ironic humor but holds no punches in its diatribe against America’s screwed-up, modern-day society.
Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.