John Fugelsang starts his one-man show, All the Wrong Reasons: A True Story of Neo-Nazis, Drug Smuggling, and Undying Love, by acknowledging that he isn’t performing a “proper piece of solo theatre. The stories here are not brave, the stakes are very low, my arc is flimsy at best, I’m not a heroic character; I don’t come out of the closet, go to Iraq or kick drugs; and the only time I mention Palestine is in this sentence.” Like everything else in All the Wrong Reasons, his disclaimer’s funny because it’s true. Although the autobiography that Fugelsang unfolds seems out of place in New York Theater Workshop’s voluminous space, it manages to stay aloft on the strength of his self-deprecating wit and warm personality.
By not pretending that his show is anything more than what it is, Fugelsang fosters an atmosphere of laid-back intimacy that’s just right for this personal history lesson. It begins with Fugelsang, a struggling screenwriter and political comedian, making the trip from L.A. to his parents’ home in Florida, where his father’s clogged arteries have brought him to the brink of death. Fugelsang’s mother is begging him to set a wedding date with his girlfriend of 11 years so that his father will have a reason to hang on a little longer. But Fugelsang loves his decade-long disavowal as much as his dad; the story that ensues revolves around his struggle between parental-induced guilt and grown-up independence.
Such themes sound banal in summary form, but Fugelsang’s story is nothing if not unique. The mother in question is an ex-nun from the deep South who left her African convent to marry a former Franciscan brother from Brooklyn. Fugelsang is the child they broke vows to conceive and his show spirals outward from that original act of ‘undying love’ and defiance. The result is a loose affiliation of anecdotes and political commentary that ranges from mildly amusing to laugh-out-loud hilarious. There’s his frightening near-arrest while couriering drugs through a Florida airport, his tense tangles with married couples jealous of his sustained bachelorhood, and his show-stopping showdown with David Duke on Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher. What the story lacks in pathos it makes up in breezy humor and modesty; All the Wrong Reasons may not be theater with a capital “T”, but there are enough good reasons to recommend it.
All the Wrong Reasons continues at New York Theater Workshop [79 East 4th St] through May 6th. Tickets cost $50; all Sunday evening performances cost $20.