Orphans in the storm
Steve Cramer talks to monoloqist James Braly about love, loss and
eccentric women ‘ think one of thetn ripped off the rent I money. or maybe the tattoo money'.‘ says James Braly. ‘That guy's got 40 percent of his body covered in tattoos. I don‘t think it‘s violent yet. although he has a bandolier with real bullets on it.’ Braly is sitting beside tne on a park bench in New York's Washington Square. It's well past midnight. and one of the three men standing a few yards away under a streetlamp. exchanging violent verbal abuse with his companions. really does appear to be armed with real bullets.
The three exchange the Oedipal pronoun so frequently between them that it seems no mother on Manhattan island is safe. Yet Braly is. like his stage presence. as unﬂappable and phlegtnatic as ever. ‘I see it all the time; this is like a theme park. It‘s old New York.‘ he says calmly.
There‘s something reassuring in his presence. as well as his descriptive powers. which I witnessed on stage a few hours before. that draws one back wholly into his story. so that we are able to block out the scuffle going on behind us. Life in (1 Marital Institution is a very simple tale about a 20-year marriage. its end and subsequent years. as well as a dying sister. two sons and their births. former girlfriends and a brief affair. There’s other stuff along the way. but that would be spoiling it. If this sounds like one of those American self-therapy shows we see so
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tnany of on the l-tinge. more beneficial to the teller than the heater. please dispel the notion and read on. Braly. a tall angular fellow. in a dapper. tie-less suit. with silver rimmed spectacles. his face framed by curly greying hair. is a far classier act than this. :\.s a monologist. he‘s moved pretty quickly from being a relative unknown to drawing comparisons frotn New York critics with the late Spalding (iray. whose .S‘witttmtttg 'Io (tun/unlit! was arguably the one man show of the 80s.
For this kind of performance. there's a lot about presence. the simple “being there" quality which can only work when you‘re in the room. Braly showed this in spades earlier tonight.
The quality of his technique is that he manages to tell us a love story. but without the clamouring for attention. caterwauling or sentimentalism you might expect. lle mixes warmth with detachment. so that beyond the humour of the piece. the sadness and pathos of his plight settles
‘THE RELATIONSHIP WAS FAMILIAR
AND COMFORTING BECAUSE IT
upon us almost unnoticed. Braly is as much critical of himself as his estranged wife. Susan.
But at heart it is a love story. and Braly reflects upon recoyet'y frotn love. Discussing a former girlfriend. who he had separated from before he met his wife. he says. "She's an adult onset schi/ophrcnic now. She calls me twice a year according to which phase she's at. One goes. "thank you so very much. you were so kind to tne for letting the liyc in your house. until I dumped you for another guy who let tnc live in his". or I get "I‘m going to destroy you for trying to destroy tne as pan of the conspiracy".‘
Braly says he is drawn to troubled women. .-\re they especially difficult to pan from'.’ He makes a comparison between his relationship with his old girlfriend and his wife: ‘lt was familiar and comforting because it was cra/y. I guess you can't go home again. but this stuff is the touchstone. l-'or tne the touchstone. home now. is my wife. ey en though we at'c separated. and [to move on frotn a relationship that isn't workingl you have to kind of orphan yourself. until you don't want to go home.. You'll enjoy being homeless with Braly.
Life in a Marital Institution, Assembly Rooms, 623 3030, 5-27 Aug (not 13), 2pm, 211-212 (210—211). Previews 3 & 4 Aug, £5.