Donna/Madonna is a 70 minute one-act from Writer/Performer John Paul Karliak, as seen at the Lyric Theatre on July 24th without intermission. In his opening, Karliak explains how he entertained his blue-collar family with “living room theatre” growing up in the humdrum town of Scranton, PA. Likewise, the sparsely designed set, a black box with two chairs, was the backdrop against which Karliak splashed colorful scene after scene in his semi auto-biographical coming of age story. With the help of well-coordinated lighting and sound cues, the space transformed into a busy coffee shop, a solemn, anonymous New York street, Karliak’s own bathroom.
Karliak’s story involves issues of identity; struggling to explain his own sexuality and a desire to be reunited with his birth mother, he risks hurting the one he loves most, his closest friend, and the only mother he’s ever known. Karliak admits he’s a sucker for the approval of others. But it’s a sensitive story, with carefully placed emotional beats and he never begs for sympathy, just quiet understanding. These moments are broken up by Karliak’s terrific sense of humor.
There is a hint of pop culture in every bite. Karliak or JP as he is known to everyone except his mother, tells his own experiences, which must have been damning at the time, with a joke liking the pressure of being an adopted son to that of wearing a new pair of Prada shoes. The occasional sacchrine aside and familiar dance numbers, however, never injure the sentiment. These bits reflects a deeper, sometimes troubling image of a young man who has learned again and again, how to cope with desperation through humor.
JP’s genuine nature is as sweet as apple-pie, often blush-inducing, if not entirely robust. Often, he flubbed lines and called out to his Stage Manager for a line. He was also responsive to the audience, acknowledging a ringing cell phone, hoots from the crowd, and at one point, tailoring the script for an ex-boyfriend in the audience which cut the climax short. That being said, Karliak’s sometimes imperfect touch only added to universal themes that resonate at a personal level, carefully handled with grace and wit.
Karliak’s next performance will be held at Chance Theatre in Anaheim. For the latest performances, news and motherly advice, visit www.donnamadonnashow.com. AND don’t be surprised if this burgeoning young talent shows up somewhere other than small black box theater venues, TCS Officially predicts a jump to either the small or even the big screen for this guy soon.
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