All you need to know going into I Took Your Name is that Michael Stipe is the driving force and lead vocalist of the musical group R.E.M. And, in the interests of full disclosure (and under no duress), I will state that their songs "Losing My Religion" and "Everybody Hurts" border on brilliance.
From the beginning, with R.E.M.'s song "It's the End of the World As We Know it (And I Feel Fine)" through the end of the hour-long performance, Michael Howard Nathanson as author and solo performer manages to send up fan worship and celebrity, while expertly walking the very thin line between making fun of a character and engendering sympathy for him. For this guy is either a nonentity who in his own mind is Michael Stipe, or he really is Michael Stipe.
The text is replete with references to R.E.M. songs and lyrics, but you don't have to get them all for the play to make its point. As our hero describes his life, the issues of self, identity, and singularity swirl around him; and on top of everything else, this person is full of bullshit bravado, no matter who he is.
Verbose doesn't even begin to describe it, but he becomes fascinating partly because of how much he loves the sound of his own voice. And, like certain types of maniacs, this guy is incredibly intuitive, often smack on target about other people and their motives while being clueless about himself. Is he aware of his over-articulated movements and over-enunciated speech? Is he really a blowhard celebrity, or just playing one for our benefit?
Nathanson is a wonder to watch and listen to as he navigates through
the character's fragile psyche, flooding the audience's ears with
words words words to explain himself, whoever he is. While it
takes more than wearing a sports jersey around your waist to make
you Michael Stipe, it is made clear that life is fragile, and
"reality" can change in an instant. Therefore, as he
demonstrates, it never hurts to have a really cool pair of wraparound
Director Per Brask has worked with Nathanson to keep the character
interesting while simultaneously keeping the question open: is
he Michael Stipe? According to his five-year-old niece, the only
person he seems able to connect with, that is his name. And even
though he is the one telling this story, who are we to doubt her
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Copyright 2000 David Mackler