The preternaturally affable monologuist Josh Kornbluth is back in town for a limited run. In 2000, he described in Red Diaper Baby at Theatre J what it was like to grow up in a pinko-and-proud-of it Jewish household. In 2004, Love and Taxes gave Arena audiences a bit more to chew on, offering a genially self-deprecating self-portrait of a down-with-the-establishment slacker who managed to avoid paying taxes for 10 years.
Now in Citizen Josh, Kornbluth’s subject is capital-d Democracy, and his approach is just as gentle and amiably elliptical as ever. Which is…well, not a problem, exactly. But it will likely leave you hankering for something sharper and more incisive than the “whaddyagonnado?” observations served up here, chief among them: We should talk more with those who disagree with us. As de Tocqueville famously wrote: Well, duh.
Sharper and incisive are both words that bespeak a hard edge, but Citizen Josh is all rounded corners and comfy pillows. This dramaturgical baby-proofing does at least seem deliberate, in that it allows him room to play with the evening’s tone. Those passages of Kornbluth’s monologue that are sincerely moving are moving precisely because they’re so sincere. A story about his father and his baby brother, for example, can only land with the weight it does because Kornbluth’s presence remains so guileless and earnest throughout.
At the end of the evening, Kornbluth walks the audience through a series of pie charts based on a survey they’ve completed in the lobby beforehand. The results may not be particularly enlightening (the cohort of D.C. theater audiences is just as old, white and wealthy as you’ve always suspected), or even intelligible (“I think the rest of the audience thinks it shares my political views—Agree or Disagree”) but you can’t say the guy’s not providing a service.
But I did feel for the black couple in the audience on the night I saw the show. They’d filled out their survey, but because they were so outnumbered by whites, they didn’t constitute 1 percent of the audience. As a result, on the race pie chart, Excel did what it does with less-than-whole percentages: It rounded them down. To, um, zero.