Dick Done Broke begins with a man lying face down, in a drunken stupor, on a metal platform that swings back and forth over a floor of empty liquor bottles and trash. It is the perfect setting for Donny (played by D. J. Mendel, also the play’s author) to meditate on all the sordid and sorry aspects of his life. Dick Done Broke is the tale of a man who knows exactly what’s wrong with himself but has no interest in self-improvement. Not the most uplifting subject matter perhaps, but this play’s no downer. There are plenty of funny moments and genuine sincerity in Mendel’s portrayal to make pity seem unnecessary. Donny is a bad parent, an ineffectual worker, and a lousy husband (his problems in the bedroom a big part of the problem): To pity him would be kicking him while he’s down. And he’s pretty close to bottom as is.
The use of the swinging platform works like a pendulum, keeping Donny in the same place. Never veering too far one way or the other, he remains suspended. This is also metaphor for his life. There are no real eureka moments here. As Donny rambles on to himself, the viewer knows that Donny’s had these conversations with himself a hundred times before. In fact, many of the expositions serve as “reminders” to himself about what he could have been and where he’s been before (though not a lot of ways to get back to the good times or escape the bad). Everyone, for better or worse, knows a guy like Donny and his relatability is what makes him less tragic and almost endearing. His lot in life is not likely to change, but the fact that he’s still there is somewhat of a triumph. And sometimes, that’s the most anyone can ask for.
A natural comedian, Mendel has a knack for finding mirth in despair and insight in minutiae but his real talent lies in his dialogue. His monologue sparkles with a lyricism reminiscent of the wordsmiths Ethan and Joel Coen, as well as film director Hal Hartley (a frequent collaborator) at his most poetic. Though not a shin-splitting comedy, Dick Done Broke keeps the audience entertained (if a bit dizzy by the constant swinging back and forth) and Donny heads out into the dawn a little less worse for the wear.
Top photo, Dan Sharnoff
Second photo, Richard Sylvarness
Dick Done Broke is written and performed by D.J. Mendel; Directed by Dan Safer. It plays at The Bushwick Starr until Sat, November 19th. For tickets and more information, please visit www.thebushwickstarr.org