Friday, February 24, 2017

"Daughter of a Garbage Man"

Daughter of a Garbage Man
Maureen Langan

Maureen Langan
Maureen Langan -- accomplished stand-up comedian, journalist, and talk show host – has a fixation on the Kardashians.  She can hardly stop talking about Kim, especially when comparing their two lives and the unfair difference between their fame and fortune.  One of the two followed the advice of her Bronx-born, blue-collar dad and her Irish-immigrant mother and worked hard, went to college, and learned as an English major the ins and outs of using semicolons and dashes.  The other made a sex tape with her boy friend, starred in a reality TV series, made movies, and toured the world to promote her book.  To Maureen Langan, she somehow got the wrong end of the deal and the wrong advice early on how to be successful in life.  She is now looking whom to blame: her father, her mother, America (which “values hot and young over substance”), or all three.

In The Marsh’s Daughter of a Garbage Man, Maureen Langan grabs the audience in the palm of her hand and will not let go of them for seventy-five minutes.  As her captivated clan in the intimate setting of The Marsh, we ring forth constantly in unabashed laughter at her stories of growing up and the imitations of her parents.  Audience members eagerly note total agreement through lots of energetic nodding (and applause) with her observations about parents and American culture.  Seemingly to a person, we even a shed a couple of tears here and there as her stories remind us of our own stories.

In her one-woman tour-de-force, Maureen Langan explores in some sincerity but mostly with full tongue-in-cheek why America seems currently to be rewarding reality show stars and not her (or you or me).  She looks at her upbringing to find out why did she grow up not realizing that “all you have to be in life is young, hot, and famous” to be successful.

She begins with her dad, Huey Langan (named, she claims, for the patron saint of “fools, idiots, and shoemakers”), a garbage man in New Jersey with a huge heart and big laugh – except when he was drinking, which was all too often.  Turning with her left shoulder to the audience and her extended left arm motioning every phrase, Ms. Langan sounds off in the heavy Bronx street talk of her dad and describes him as “a giant toddler ... a lot of fun ... but you never know when he’s going to have a breakdown.”  This combination of “Archie Bunker, Fred Sanford, and Marlin Brando” could sometimes be the violent drunk who turned over the family’s Christmas tree or punched holes in the wall (which were then covered with Maureen’s third-grade art), but he could also be the good guy who sat with her on the couch reveling in guffaws and providing hilarious commentary while father-daughter watched “The Ed Sullivan Show.”  Listening to her tell these stories from both her and his perspective, we see and hear the love and the pain wrapped up in that relationship.

Turning to the other side so that her left shoulder now points to audience and her right hand lies flat on her upper chest, Ms. Langdon dons a rich Irish brogue and a shaky head to become her mother.  Of her mom, she recalls, “When you’re mother has an Irish accent, she can say the most hurtful things and it sounds like a Celtic poet.”  Given all the strictness (and prejudices) her Catholic mother used in monitoring what young Maureen wore and whom she befriended, the adult Maureen tries to convince us that maybe her mother, Ann (also known as Annie, Nancy, and Dolly), is the one to blame for her not now being as famed and rich as Kim Kardashian.  But like with her dad, her stories increasingly become ones of the older Maureen discovering that there is much more beneath the hard surface that she did not understand or know as a young girl – heartaches and sacrifices (and surprises) that once known, help the adult Maureen to look to further sources for the core blame of her current dilemma of not enough fame and fortune.

Maureen Langan
So, to America the always-pacing/moving Maureen turns her attention.  (With her red hair, high heels, and short stature, think of Bette Midler to get an idea of her built-in energy.)  And once the focus is America, the blame eventually begins to fall on all our amused but guilty shoulders.  Who else has created the Kardashians or elected the star of “The Apprentice” as president?  Her message begins to hit home pretty loud and clear, and the show turns into a bit of a rally to action to change the road we are currently on where pop and political stars are becoming too synonymous.

But what makes Ms. Langan’s stories particularly touching and meaningful is when she reveals layer after layer of her own fears and faults.  There is “a lump in my throat throbbing,” we are told – a lump filled with a young girl’s, a teen’s, and maybe still a grown woman’s own sense of mortality and looming, dire possibilities.  (What must it be like going through most of a growing up worrying swallowing one’s tongue or being fearful of choking to death on the dark dots of vanilla bean ice cream?)  It is through this thread permeating throughout her stories that we learn so much about our storyteller and through which she helps us remember some of our own insecurities that appear in the middle of the night or that have haunted us since childhood.  Our hearts go out to her, even as we are cackling at the next recalled antidote, spontaneous-sounding side remark, or emulated voice from her past.

As he does with many of the Marsh shows, David Ford has helped Ms. Langan in the development of her script and show as well as ably directed it.  The result is a show that looks often as if we are tonight hearing the first telling as ideas and stories seem to pop spontaneously into the teller’s conscience.  Alexa Amira contributes excellent lighting and help with occasional projections that add further context and humor to the narratives.  The result of their support and Maureen Langan’s writing and performance is an evening that passes much too quickly, jam-packed with moments to be relished and remembered.

Rating: 5 E

Daughter of a Garbage Man continues through March 25, Thursdays at 8 p.m. and Saturdays at 5 p.m. at The Marsh, San Francisco, main stage, 1062 Valencia Street.  Tickets are available at or by calling 415-282-3055 Monday – Friday, 1 – 4 p.m.

Photo Credit: Bitten by AZebra Media

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