Eric Bogosian’s 1+1 Review

A sleazy photographer convinces a naïve aspiring actress to pose naked for him. Didn’t that happen to Irene Cara in “Fame” more than forty years ago?  And even then it felt trite and obvious.  

Yet here I was at the SoHo Playhouse watching  “Eric Bogosian’s 1+1,” a 1930s-like melodrama updated to the Internet Age about a woman’s descent after being betrayed by a scheming photographer, with the most interesting twist being that it was written by Bogosian, a playwright of great talent and originality (usually.) 

Phil (Daniel Yaiullo) and  Brianne (Katie North)  meet  as customer and waitress at a  Steak N Brew in Los Angeles. He thanks her when she delivers his meal. She says you’re welcome. He tells her how impressed he is with her use of that rarity of  expression in L.A. and the sincerity with which she said it. And thus the seduction begins. She tells him she’s moved from Arizona to be an actress. He tells her he is a studio photographer from London, who used to do high fashion photography in Europe. She asks him how much a headshot should cost. He offers to shoot her for free.

It takes the entire first act for him to flatter her into disrobing for him, and to allow him to sell the photographs to an Internet pornographer, and then to progress to a video camera. By then, they are having an affair and using drugs.

The only other character in the play, Carl (Michael Gardiner), her supervisor at the restaurant, has a puppy-dog crush on her, which she ignores, treating him bossily, until she tries to seek his help, but is too far gone by then.

It doesn’t seem worth enumerating all the gaps in storytelling and in logic in “1+1,” especially in Act II, which takes place five years later, and presents a series of developments and revelations that largely feel imposed by the writer rather than springing believably from the characters. The one redeeming aspect of the second act is Bogosian’s thought-provoking exploration of how the pursuit of redemption plays out in practice — specifically, how making amends as part of a 12-step program can wind up not just a futile but a selfish act.

The title apparently comes from an exchange between Phil and Brianne when they’re in the middle of a drug and money-fueled stupor. They agree that they’re on the top of the world, but when Brianne says “we’re lucky,” Phil replies:

“No, you make your fuckin’ luck. The world is full of stupid fucking people. And you make your luck. With your brains, with your skill, with your ass. Life’s a problem, you fucking solve it. It’s just math. But you have to have the balls to do the math. One plus one.”
Brianne: Equals two.
Phil: That’s right.

But so much in “1+1” just doesn’t add up. That drug stupor, for example, is fueled by their smoking crack cocaine, which would feel more credible if the play was taking place in the 1980s, but the program tells us the time is “Now, sort of.”

I took that hedge as a clue that Bogosian wrote this play a long time ago. What we’re told is that it was originally developed at Powerhouse/New York Stage And Film at Vassar College in 2008, but not produced again until 2021 at The Black Box, a small theater in Englewood, NJ, as part of that theater’s pandemic-inspired pivot to serve as “New Jersey’s incubator for new, under-produced and rare plays in partnership with world class writers.” It is The Black Box that is producing the play’s transfer Off-Broadway, with Black Box’s founder, Matt Okin, serving as the production’s director. It’s hard to fault Okin’s staging, or the three actors’ performances, which are certainly professional. But wouldn’t it be a more worthwhile endeavor for Black Box to nurture emerging local talent than to beseech a top-drawer writer to retrieve a script from his bottom drawer?

Bogosian, best-known as the playwright and performer of the Pultizer- and Tony-nominated “Talk Radio,”  as a celebrated monologuist (and the author of “100 Monologues”) and as a frequent TV actor,  has another play being revived this month – the 1986  Obie-winning “Drinking in America” starring Andre Royo (from The Wire) at the Minetta Lane Theater.

Eric Bogosian’s 1+1
Soho Playhouse through March 19
Running time: One hour and 45 minutes including an intermission
Tickets: $46
Written by Eric Bogosian
Directed by Matt Okin
Production design by Ilana Schimmel
Original incidental music by Ben Shanblatt
Cast: Katie North, Daniel Yaiulla, Michael Gardiner

Photographs by  Florian Wahl  and Monique Carboni

Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

Leave a Reply