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Bucknaked: A Love Story is the world premiere of an entertaining but edgy and, at times, unpolished new one-man show. It is an up-tempo musical comedy written and performed by Broadway veteran Scott Robertson and smartly shaped and staged by Manbites Dog Theater artistic director Jeff Storer, with able assistance from set designer Wade Ferguson Dansby 3, lighting designer Jesse Belsky, and sound designer Edward Hunt.
Robertson, who is an incredibly charismatic actor, singer, and raconteur, played New York City mayor Ed Koch in Mayor in 1988. He is currently appearing as the charming Jewish grocer Herr Schulz in the Roundabout Theatre Company's revival of the new darker, more disturbing, more realistic version of Cabaret at Studio 54 (http://www.cabaret-54.com/ [inactive 3/04]), starring Neil Patrick Harris, Deborah Gibson, Tom Bosley, and Mariette Hartley.
Herr Schulz's awkward and self-conscious romantic overtures to Sally Bowles' German landlady mostly provided comic relief in the original script. The poignancy of their doomed bittersweet romance is played up and adds to the emotional impact of the current revival.
But Scott Robertson is not playing the amiable Herr Schulz in Bucknaked. He is playing himself from age 3 to age 49. In some ways, that is the hardest character to play without overdoing it.
Indeed, Robertson plays a somewhat larger than life, hyper-intense version of Scott Robertson as he remembers and reenacts the ups and downs of his relationship with his beloved father, Buck, who died when he was 15. Scott says Buck was a superb singer who could have been another Frank Sinatra had he not chosen instead to settle down and cultivate a career and a family. Buck filled his empty spaces with — and drowned his unfulfilled ambitions in — an ocean of alcohol... until hard living killed him.
Robertson talks about being bitten by the theater bug at an early age, discovering in his mid-30s that the tics and clicks and twitches that plagued him since childhood was Tourette Syndrome, realizing he was gay at age 15, and bracing himself to "come out" to family and friends. He seemingly holds nothing back, literally and figuratively stripping himself buck naked as he reminisces about cruising the gay bath houses of New York City as a teenager in the halcyon days before Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome put a damper on that party.
Maybe it is his constant struggle to suppress his Tourette Syndrome, but Scott Robertson comes on a bit too strong. He acts and sings and tells stories masterfully, like the Broadway veteran he is. But he seems a little too eager to please the audience.
The script for Bucknaked has some rough spots and some abrupt or inadequate transitions. But Bucknaked makes you want to see more — much more — of Scott Robertson. It's hard to tell whether this one-man show may be bound for the Big Apple. But Robertson is definitely bound for bigger and better things.
Manbites Dog Theater presents Bucknaked: A Love Story Friday-Saturday, March 28-29, at 8:15 p.m. and Sunday, March 30, at 3:15 p.m. in Manbites Dog Theater at 703 Foster St., Durham, North Carolina. $15. 919/682-3343. http://www.manbitesdogtheater.org/2/.