Photo Credit:

Dan Ruth
A Life Behind Bars
City Winery Loft
April 1, 2019 – 8PM

Cabaret has long been the domain of the singer, and all things musical, or so we are told. But, every once in a while a solo spoken word show, in other words – a one act play, takes us by surprise, transcends cabaret, and in this instance, transcends theater itself.  A Life Behind Bars cuts to the heart like a well-aged scotch. It’s both satisfying, and burns just enough, to let you know it’s the good stuff.

With a compelling focus and brilliant characterizations, Ruth chronicles his days as a bartender at some of NY’s trendiest dive-bars. He offers up portraits of engaging characters, such as a Brooklyn, Man-bun sporting, barfly; an Andrew Lloyd Webber loving, Long Island Doyen; a homophobic, Brooklyn landlord; a pentagram-tattooed, skater-punk; and even comic Dom Deluise, all of whom were patrons at the many bars he stood behind, watching life’s lessons unfold.

We laugh uproariously as Sarah (the Long Island Doyen) proceeds to get sloshed on her way to theater (I’m sure I sat next to her at Phantom of the Opera).  We ache for Man-bun’s not-so-hidden insecurities. We yearn for Braden, the skater-punk who cannot accept love. We even revel, along with him,  in the sudden demise of his homophobic landlord (at least I did). And, as for Dom Deluise? Well, I won’t spoil the fun. You’ll have to see A Life Behind Bars to find out.

Interwoven among these vignettes, is the truth of a slow demise into alcoholism. Ruth’s play takes a serious turn recounting 911 (Sept 11, 2001), the death of his brother, and his tragic journey from “self-medication, to self-destruction” –  “Drunk by noon, passed out by 2, and back out by 5.”  This drunken spree crescendos the play to it’s fervent end, with a call to 911 (emergency), a stint in rehab, and a triumphant recovery.

Not since Lily Tomlin or Whoppi Goldberg has a one person play moved me so much. Through his relentless truth-telling, Ruth serves up hilarity, with a chaser of pathos.  Although, the well-worn line of “laughing one minute and crying the next” may not be apropos here, as you may find yourself laughing while tears are running down your cheek.

At least part of this magic can be attributed to Bistro Awards winning Director, Tanya Moberly. The shaping and pace of this show, use of space on stage, creative lighting and sound, and a rather magical use of a towel (which in Ruth’s hands, becomes the unshackling of addiction) all speak to a thoughtful, respectful and poignant direction that allows this show to soar.

A special mention should be made about The City Winery as well. This was my first time at this venue, which was delightful. With an elegant, yet “downtown” feel, the space lends itself to Cabaret performance quite well. And, the food was delicious, and well presented. Be sure to check out their schedule at CityWinery.com

A Life Behind Bars will continue to play at various theaters across the country, even as Ruth is in development for his next solo show, coming soon (hopefully) to a theater near you. For more information and dates see www.danruthbkny.com