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A CurtainUp Review
No Place to Go

First I'm gonna cry/Then I'm gonna weep/Then I'm gonna lie down on my bed and bawl/Until I fall asleep/If somebody calls/I'll call ‘em back next week/Cuz I am doing what I can/That's my three-tear plan.— "Three-Tear Plan."
No Place to o
Ethan Lipton
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
The financial crisis blues has arrived at Joe's Pub with No Place to Go, Ethan Lipton's funny personal ode to the unemployed. Composed and performed by Lipton and his Orchestra, and directed by Leigh Silverman (Chinglish, Well), this is the first salvo of the New York Voices Series at the Public Theate and, in these stale economic times, it's a welcome breath of fresh air.

No Place to Go is a hard-to-categorize show. Inspired by the Dust Bowl Ballads, it's a surreal amalgam of songs, monologues, confessions, and dreams told by a modern-day troubadour and veteran performer. Lipton (an original cast member of Gatz) not only puts his heart on his sleeve, but puts his ego there too. He embodies three personas (information refiner, emerging playwright, and an old-timey singer-songwriter) and he ends up showing us a "truer true" — a jazzier jazz and navel-gazing that is anything but self-indulgent.

The premise is far out and spooky: The company that he's worked for the past decade is relocating to another planet (Mars), and Lipton doesn't want to go. He has ruled his particular roost as "information refiner" for 10 years. This job, which he loves, has earned him the moniker of "Old Man Fancy Pants." In short, he's the go-to guy, the one who knows the ins-and-outs of the product, the man who comes through in a pinch. As the imminent Martian move begins to take shape in his department and the date is announced, Lipton confronts his future and discovers that it's not unlike the Rapture. He only has to wait and wrestle with the demons in his soul. As for many of his co-workers, staying behind feels like a "gooey malaise" and a "nap-like paralysis" creeping in.

Instead of going into a total funk, Lipton invites us, his tribe of magical thinkers, to experience the "monster" itself. And so, without making light of his unemployment woes, he spins a 90-minute riff in the spirit of Woodie Guthrie.

As the audience listens and perhaps noshes on a burger and beer in the newly-refurbished Joe's Pub, Lipton does something more than pin down his bruised psyche. He speaks to our times as he advises all unemployed people (or permanent part-timers) to reach for "kinship and beat back desperation." He offers no pie-in-the-sky or blueprint for the future, but he pictures penniless times with clear-eyed precision.

No Place to Go is awash with both topical references and cultural nods that go back 100 years. There's even a song, "WPA," that's dedicated to Harry Hopkins who headed the Works Progress Administration (WPA) during Roosevelt's New Deal era. Less profound, but more pungent, is "Three-Tear Plan," an aptly-titled ballad that embraces the moment when one becomes the newest unemployed person in our nation. Its lachrymose lyrics are achingly funny. Besides making "a good cry" a rite of passage, it underscores the old dictum in Ecclesiastes: There's "a time to cry."

Part of the charm of this piece is that Lipton presents himself as an "everyman." He shares endearing anecdotes about his wife Heather and some of his two and four-footed friends. Numbers like "Aging Middle Class Parents" have him hypothetically moving back home and depict the drastic life-style change that it would demand. In stark contrast, there's the "Soccer Song" that recaps the department's final soccer game. In the triple role of "elder statesman, defense man, and chief pointer-outer of interesting developments on the field," Lipton terrifically cheers on his colleagues with the rousing refrain: "GET-THE-GUY, GET-THE-GUY, GET-THE-GUY/BACK-BACK-BACK-BACK-BACK." This song encapsulate Lipton's unflappable spirit and serves as the department's last hurrah and the "splitting of the tribes."

Far from being depressing, the entire 90 minutes is mood-elevating. Lipton is ably assisted by saxophonist Vito Dieterle, guitarist Eben Levy, and bassist Ian M. Riggs. No Place to Go may not heal our economy, but he certainly does heal the spirit. It proves that even the ticklish subject of unemployment can be turned into an evening of laughter as well as tears.

No Place to Go
Written, composed, and performed by Ethan Lipton
Directed by Leigh Silverman
Performers: Ethan Lipton and His Orchestra.
Music composed by: Ethan Lipton, Eben Levy, Ian M. Riggs and Vito Dieterle

Sound Consultant: Acme Sound Partners
Lighting: Ben Stanton
Stage Manager: William H. Lang
Joe's Pub at The Public Theater at 425 Lafayette Street. Phone 212/967-7555. For more information, visit
Tickets: $30.
From 3/14/12; opening 3/21/12; closing 4/08/12.
Tuesday through Sundays @ 7pm. (There is no performance on Wednesday, April 4. The performance on Friday, March 30 is at 9pm, not 7pm.) There will be no food and drink minimum for this event. Doors will open at 6pm for dinner and drinks before the 7pm shows.
Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission
Reviewed by Deirdre Donovan based on press performance of 3/18/12
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