Brian Dykstra Selling Out
Who The Kitchen Theatre
Where 417 W. State / W. MLK, Jr. St., Ithaca
When Through Dec. 16
Review by Nick DeSantis
With his feet firmly planted on the stylized stars and stripes of the American flag stage, a blazer-clad Brian Dykstra tosses a casual, all-too-familiar question at the audience: “What do you do?”
He pauses, wrinkling his brow in disgust at the hollow nature of his own clichéd inquiry. “‘What do you do’ is the question we always ask each other, not ‘what do you think?’”
Throughout Dykstra’s one-man rant-fest Brian Dykstra Selling Out, there is never a point during which we are unclear about what Dykstra is thinking. He loudly unleashes torrent after torrent of rapid-fire observations at the crowd while pacing the stage like a caged animal, tackling topics such as corporate greed, right-wing conservatism and climate change deniers with aplomb. His liberal views are fired like missiles at these targets throughout the show, with a bull’s-eye clearly painted on the corruptive, corrosive power of money. The show is loose and freewheeling, with plenty of space for Dykstra to improvise at will, but filthy lucre seems to be the central focus of his ire throughout the show.
Even while brimming with rage, Dykstra still likes to express his views through a smile. His humor, derived primarily from clever word choices and the ironic co-opting of pop-culture phrases such as “Drill baby drill” and “What’s in your wallet?” is central to Selling Out, just as it was in his previous work as a spoken word artist and slam poet. His wit and wordplay work wonders in helping lubricate his anger, making the perpetual barrage of opinion that much more palpable for the audience.
Ironically, the effectiveness of Dykstra’s quippy banter as a vehicle for his opinions is most evident when it’s totally absent. During the “serious” portions of his performance, his messages become leaden, preachy and seem to lose traction. At one point in the show, Dykstra suddenly sits on a stool and, without warning, takes on the persona of a Somalian fisherman, admonishing the crowd in an inflected accent for the corporate overfishing of his waters.
He then recounts the violence “his people” have suffered at the hands of wealthier, more powerful countries in the pursuit of an inflated bottom line, slinging venomous barbs such as “…and you have the nerve to call me ‘pirate’” to those in attendance. This strange tonal about-face came off jarring, heavy-handed and long-winded. After close to an hour of levity before this moment, this monologue seemed like it was dropped onstage from another show.
However, when Dykstra spikes his rage with humor, his immense talents shine brightly. As anyone that has seen him square off against the microphone on HBO’s Def Poetry can attest,Dykstra’s limber, aggressive poetry style is perfectly suited for this political material, establishing a rhythm with his words that make music out of his grievances.
The show cuts between him delivering slam poetry behind a microphone and him stepping out in front of it, commanding the stage in a more conversational manner. Utilizing a file cabinet of documents and a coffee table riddled with newspapers as props, these parts of the show veered into stand-up comedy territory, with a casual rapport being struck up with the audience under the “can you believe this shit?!” climate of his commentary. Even as a one-man performance, these give-and-take moments expanded the scope of the show to the crowd itself, and with the material’s “power of the people” undercurrent, this seemed especially apt.
For left-leaning political junkies and those that admire the artistry of the spoken word, Brian Dykstra Selling Out can be the perfect way to laugh at the abyss of today’s current political frustrations with a group of like-minded individuals. As long as Dykstra lets the laughs buoy his frustrations, his opinions won’t sink into the impenetrable depths of seriousness with the show itself.