by Ryan Leeds
Blending heavy emotional drama with irreverent stand-up comedy is no easy task. Neal Brennan has mastered that art in his solo show, Neal Brennan 3 Mics. Brennan, whose most notable credit includes co-creating Comedy Central’s, “Chappelle’s Show” with Dave Chappelle, is currently making his New York theatrical debut with impressive range.
On a plain stage backed by a red velvet curtain at the Lynn Redgrave Theater, Brennan alternates between three microphones, each with a specific style and purpose. Stage right serves as his podium for witty one-liners, stage left provides the opportunity for random musings on all things from race relations to ISIS and gender differences. The center microphone, which he designates for “emotional stuff,” gives Brennan the opportunity to unload his demons and open his heart.
This isn’t a typical comedy routine. Brennan dives deep into issues that include an alcoholic father and his own battle with depression. What makes it so effective is the fact that there is a clarity of tone with clean blackouts (thanks to Davison Scandrett’s lighting design) between each set. Brennan was inspired to write the piece after trying the concept on Comedy Central’s “The Meltdown.” It’s a concept that works well. Brennan’s wry, deadpan delivery is reminiscent of comedian Steven Wright, whose humor is also fresh, funny, and thought provoking. He also does an excellent job of interspersing the serious stuff with liberal doses of laughs. The piece, under Drew Barr’s tight direction, never feels heavy laden.
Brennan clearly has his fans. Prior to opening, an extension was announced. Initially scheduled to play through March 13, it will now run through April 9. The Chappelle factor is likely a reason, and having singer/songwriter John Legend as an executive producer doesn’t hurt either. Without the name recognition, though, this talented comedian can still hold his own.
Audience laughter is encouraged, but try to control yourself. Brennan chided some rather unruly guests who appeared to have been his booze-bombed buddies, but he had every right. He is performing a delicate balancing act here and while it’s always nice to be encouraged, there’s no need to break an artist’s concentration and annoy the audience in the process.
Neal Brennan 3 Mics
The Lynn Redgrave Theatre
45 Bleecker Street, NYC
Through April 9
Ryan Leeds is a freelance theater journalist who lives in Manhattan. He is the Chief Theater Critic for Manhattan Digest and a frequent contributor to Dramatics Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @Ry_Runner or on Facebook.