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A CurtainUp Review
Ingenious Nature
By Zoe Erwin-Longstaff

"So what about now? Have I got a clue? Am I still trying to screw everything that moves, like in high school? I’m thirty-four. Shouldn’t that phase of my life be through? What’s a single guy to do?"—Baba Brinkman.
Baba Brinkman
(Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)
Ingenious Nature, written and performed by Baba Brinkman, is a perplexing show. Extended monologue? Stand-up comedy? Science lecture? Rap concert? However you bill it, it’s like no other theatre piece I’ve seen. There he is our monologuist, sitting at a desk that is fortified by science books. Rap music blaring, he absentmindedly moves to the music, engrossed with the laptop screen before him.

Ostensibly we are being ignored. Nevertheless we are privy to the contents of his online searches since the screen of his laptop is being projected onto the back wall of the stage. So we know it is the dating site" OKCupid" that has his rapt attention. And soon enough, he is checking in with us, demanding our feedback, and trying to gauge our level of comfort. “Have you ever used an online dating site? Text 723 848-924? to answer.” When he is met with only one response—a no—he chides us. Surely more of us have used the site than are willing to admit it. But it is more than this quest for audience feedback that is on display. Brinkman’s next move is to narrate his obscene thoughts and feelings onto a projected word document, commenting on the potential dates he drums up —- which ones pique his interest and why. We get to watch as he instant messages them.

That this is all happening in real time and with real life consequences is enthralling. Brinkman’s complete disengagement from us, on the one hand, matched by a willingness to allow our texts to dictate his romantic decisions, on the other, is both brilliant and bewildering. It's certainly the high point of his ninety-minute performance.

The lights change and we are off on a different tack. Baba and his “sidekick,” Jamie Simmonds, are introduced. Baba begins by tracking his masculine development through Rap icon worship and veneration of the “gangsta lifestyle.” Uninventive as this is, it still works as a segue into the show’s central theme, which is Baba’s quest for love through the application of various hypotheses he’s picked up in psychology texts.

The plot, to the extent there is one, unfolds pretty much as you might expect. Baba meets a slew of archetypal women: from the Scripture quoting, evangelical Southerner, to the loopy, New-Wave yoga practitioner, to the scorched-earth feminist. As liberal ladies gushing over Life of Pi, Feist, NPR are spoofed, easy laughs follow. The same happens when foreign ladies with funny accents are evoked.

Fortunately, and what is really evident from the start, its the theatrical devices of this piece that engage our attention. Baba tells his story clearly , with explicit visual aids in the form of a Powerpoint presentation. While rapping he is uses demonstrative hand symbols to illustrate his lyrics. This is so hokey and rudimentary that it evokes those high-school assembly demonstrations that tried to impart crucial information in a “relatable” way to its constituents. Hence the cringe-worthy tales he offers of the immaturity and vulnerability are what we have all experienced at one time or another. Baba capitalizes on his ability to make us shrink down in our seats and collectively eye-roll.

And so as Brinkman explains the difference between the slutty meadow vole and the steadfast prairie vole we giggle along while actually digesting some basic scientific concepts. Indeed, before the 90 minutes are over out we will pick up a few nuggets of head-scratching trivia —. for instance, that pregnant women are more xenophobic during their first trimester, or that ovulating exotic dancers make more tips. That these factoids are remembered through catchy refrains makes them all the more enduring and likely to crop up in post show conversations.

Ingenious Nature
Written and Performed by Baba Brinkman
Music and Turntablism by Mr. Simmonds
Directed by Darren Lee Cole
Associate Projection Designer Erik Pearson
Lighting Design Jason Boyd
Sound Design Dyalekt
Production Stage Manager Cara Yeates
Running Time 90 minutes without an intermission
The SoHo Playhouse 16 Van Dam Street
Wednesdays through Sundays at 7:30pm,
From 11/20/12; opening 12/5/12; closing 1/06/13.
/Reviewed by Zoe Erwin-Longstaff at November 29th press preview
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