Tim Johnson comes onstage at The MAC as his cabaret act One. Man. Show. opens, playing a cross-dressing lounge singer who’s equal parts Courtney Love, Jackie Rogers Jr. and Janis Joplin. It’s in-your-face and disconcerting, and it’s not half of what’s to come in this brilliant confessional (which, if it gives you any indication, is not in fact a one-man show.)
Performance art like this can be aggressive — not primarily in the physical interaction with the audience, but the confrontational nature of owning up to your life. Johnson’s is almost Dickensian, if it weren’t so modern: A pawn in his parents’ divorce (including multiple kidnappings); drug addiction; mental illness; contracting HIV. And there’s more big stuff to come.
Johnson’s 75 minutes involve multimedia presentations (how strange a close-up feels in live theater!), re-created moments from TV, delivered verbatim (especially the Oprah show) and Vaudeville-like slapstick, all without a seeming purpose but really just fleshing out the random, pinball brain of a middle-aged man not sure how to look backward or forward. Brilliantly, it’s not self-indulgence run amok but searing self-examination. Daring theater like this is what Kitchen Dog’s New Works Festival was meant to encourage. See it. (Wednesday at 8 p.m., Thursday–Saturday at 9:30 p.m.)