Sunday, July 21, 2019

Love, Madness, and Somewhere in Between by James J. Cox


James J. Cox - Photography by Ron Scibilia


By Joe Straw

Sometime you just can’t judge the traffic in Hollywood during rush hour. And, when maneuvering through downtown Los Angeles traffic it’s best to be on your “A” game.  There are road closures on every corner when rushing to a 6:30pm show.

Despite only a few minor jams I found a spot on North Hudson Avenue with a meter (flashing a green dot) paid through seven pm. Parking is free after 7:00pm. There is enough room to parallel park, which Vilma says I can’t do, but I do just fine.

Safely inside, Hudson makes strong coffee (dark roast) an off-putting server with a penchant for truth, says the pastries are a day or so old.  I skip the pastries. Still, it is a perfect setting in the lobby with thirty minutes to spare.

Arriving at the ticket window the box office lady said the show was at 8:30pm.

No, it’s at 6:30. Doubting myself. Really?

Oh, my bad, she said, that’s right, they switched shows without letting me know.

And, then coming back at 6:22 I asked the same woman if they were letting in.

In, about 10 minutes.

That would make it 6:32. Show starts at 6:30.

Always timely, sometimes I can be a pest.  – Narrator

Altar boy + a priest in a theatrical setting = trouble

Love, Madness, and Somewhere in Between by James J. Cox and directed by Trace Oakley at the Hudson is a fascinating one-man show.  It’s about a boy. No, that’s not right.  It’s about a standup comedian. Not, right either. It’s a retrospective – a face lit - shadow of a man coming to grips with his past.

At the start of the play Trace Oakley, the director, gives a speech about the theatre and the exits when James J. Cox rushes on stage because Trace’s speech is taking away from his minutes on stage.  The moment is unpredictable, spirited, and not unprecedented but what the heck, a standup needs to have his time on stage.

This standup, receiving his light, tells us he is from is from Massapequa, New York, and he has a delivery similar to Woody Allen.  It’s wry although not as funny as he would like.

(As an aside, the town of Massapequa sits along side of town of Amityville where people go nuts and kill one another. But this show is not about that.)

Back to the play “Jimmy” is introduced as a friend.  That’s the way James gets around to safely tell the story about a young boy in an abusive relationship with his father.

Listening to your father and mother fight at night, trying to block out the noise with pillows over your head is one of the most disturbing things a young boy can hear. And then, when the father comes in, belt in hand and starts beating you - sometimes that feels better than the screaming.

Later, when the father comes down off an alcoholic high and then apologizes, the damage is done. And the relationship with his father is never the same. 

And when seeking advice from another father figure, a priest, well this presents more problems than solutions. And all of this carries over to a young man who later gets into trouble of his own, driving under the influence and almost killing someone.

Love, Madness and Somewhere in Between is a dramatic journey of self-discovery, of a want that is undelivered because of a pain that is too deep.  The journey is a way to connect the dots of understanding what went wrong and how to more forward. James J. Cox gives us that and more.

A few things need work. Sometimes the audience (me) is lost in the time of the piece, where we are in a specific moment. Trace Oakley, the director, sets a dramatic difference in the three main characters and that works effectively but we move in and out of the past, present, and future of the same character. The dark reflective self (the madness) brooding motionless, could that be the present?  And, is the comic (the love) the near past, or a continuing future?  There must be a creative way to give more to those moments, a reason for telling us the story, and some kind of self-actualization for good measure.   

There were only a few things that didn’t work. The Starbucks cups being thrown onto the stage doesn’t really work, or didn’t work on this night. And, we have to make more of the duck when telling the children stories not to stage left but downstage and to the audience.  

This can only be autobiographical. The details of his young self are tragic and can’t be given away.  But, one wonders why James J. Cox’s 20-year stint in the Navy was not included in this piece. After the accident, how does the Navy fit into the picture? And, after the Navy, why does the character become part of a children’s hospital, telling stories, and easing pain?

But, other than that, the night touches on a lot of emotions.

I met briefly with James after the performance. His voice was different, and stronger than his theatre voice.  One got the impressions that whatever haunts his life now is on a low frequency behind him, and he is in a better place now.  

Zahra Husein was the assistant stage manager.

The notes of his performance touch on many emotional chords and for that reason it is a show that is a must see.

Run! Run!  And take a friend, one that has overcome many obstacles.

This show has closed but will probably play in another venue. Watch for it.  

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