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District of Columbia Arts Center, 2438 18th Street, NW

Remaining Performances:

Saturday July 9th, 8:00 p.m.

They say: “Approximately 219,000 people annually in the United States are diagnosed with lung cancer. Even if one of them is your dad, it can be funnier than you think. The perfect show for anyone who has, or ever had, a father.”

Glen’s Take:  Jay Nachman’s got a story to tell. It’s one of the oldest, most profound and achingly human stories there is: the death of a father, and the hole it leaves behind. In Nachman’s case, the tale’s particulars (lung cancer, chemo, radiation, multiple surgeries, and, through it all, his fractious relationship with his father’s new girlfriend) are there to ground us, to remind us that the loss of a parent is just part of life’s end-user agreement. If we wait long enough, it’s a story all of us will get a chance to tell.

The problem – and it turns out to be a big one – is how it’s told, here.  The rhythms of My Dad is Now Ready for His Spongebath’s language are those of the written, and not spoken, word.  The script’s still full of passages that prove difficult for Nachman to get his mouth around; sentences crammed with phonemes trail off and get their ends unceremoniously swallowed. It’s clear that Nachman hasn’t yet gotten inside the text – he’s still merely reading it, indicating it, when he needs to be embodying it.

That lack of confidence undercuts the show’s general pace and Nachman’s comic timing in particular. There are plenty of jokes on hand, though they tend to be the kind favored by your corniest uncle.  But even these uncomplicated, facile comic observations (“Has anything been more perfectly named than a waiting room?”) might land better if they were delivered with a lighter touch and a satisfying snap instead of just being flatly asserted.

A good, uncompromising director might be able to crack this show open and help its author find its true heart. Because while what Nachman has to say about his father in Spongebath is certainly sincere, it currently lacks the kind of nuance, surprise, or specificity it needs to come alive on the stage.

See it if: The folks are in town.

Skip it if: You believe “Fringe” implies “edge.”