“Spiral” Proves There is Beauty Near the Vortex

Lead Article, Reviews

By Alex Miller
 
What’s in a name? Hotness, apparently. If you’re questioning that premise, so is our protagonist after a hot man at a club says he shortened his name to make it sexier. “This was news to me because I didn’t know a name could be hot,” our hero quips, his eyes and smile just as skeptical as we are.
 
Matt Ketai plays M, a handsome young man from New Mexico of Japanese and Austrian‑Jewish descent. He wears black jeans, white shoes, and a polo shirt with a cool pattern.
 
Early on, M’s sentiment, “I like my face and I like my body, but they don’t happen at the same time,” is something we all feel ‑ except, maybe, for a very small community of supermodels. Statements like these, that speak directly to our humanness, are why this show rings truer than most.
 
M’s life is filled to the brim with relationship no‑nos. And the audience? Well, we simply can’t get enough. Laughing at his pain might not be right, but he has come to terms with the humor in disaster. Why shouldn’t we?
 
His ramblings feel like we are getting pulled faster and faster down a spiral. “No, really it is. No. Seriously. It is!” That he’s so unsure, eager to reassure, and apologetic that it puts into question his reliability as a narrator. But subtle hints tell us when he’s telling the truth, and when he’s telling us “the truth,” a lie that’s gift wrapped. His calm, more serious tones draw us in even more. The veneer now lifted, we take the plunge with him.
 
A frequent liar, M tells his dates about his drug use, even though it’s something he’s never done. Having so many people believe him is a testament to how good of a liar M has become, and how the intoxicated people around him let such falsehoods slide by them.
 
After many months of dating, Pete reveals to M that he’s married. Yet he says, “You’d be my boy and he’d be my husband. You wouldn’t be his husband. I’ll stay married to him but you would be both of our boy.” You can almost hear M’s eyes roll while he’s having this explained to him.
 
M is relatable more often than not, and that’s the kind of character you want, one whose struggles you don’t mind hearing about. This is why the hour‑long play is always exciting, informative, surprising, and funny.
 
His descriptions of the people he meets, like “His eyes were green, but also mean, but also very Catholic,” and “White gays who only see the world from their gaze,” beautifully merge prose and poetry, each quality highlighting the other.
 
What Mr. Ketai does extraordinarily well is put M’s range of human complexities on full display. His complex about being biracial and not wanting to discuss it. His self‑loathing and self‑doubt. His inferiority complex and narcissism are often expressed within the same sentence. Mr. Ketai knows how to tell a story that will keep you transfixed for an hour. His body language and emotions could be expressed without dialogue, and win on their own merits. I dare you to try to lose focus. It’s just not going to happen. In all honesty, Mr. Ketai could add another two hours to the show, and still keep people interested.
 
Ultimately, this is a show that one cannot overhype. The rapid‑fire scenes that bleed into the slower, more tender scenes are exactly what you didn’t know you needed. There’s something valuable about someone who is guarded being so vulnerable and human. Mr. Ketai has succeeded greatly where many have failed. If you value authenticity with a side of façade and contradiction in a man so beaten that he spills out his heart to a random person at a bar ‑ after having just had sex with an Instagram celebrity in the bathroom of a sex shop ‑ you only have one choice. You have to see this show.

 
Spiral
Written and Performed by Matt Ketai
Directed by Nikki DiLorento
November 1 at 7:30PM
Photo: courtesy of the production
2019 United Solo Theatre Festival
Theatre Row
410 West 42nd Street
New York City
 
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ALEX MILLER, has been a professional writer and editor for 6 years. He joined the Navy in 2004, and served for four years in Haiti, Iraq, and Somalia. He has a degree in Public Engagement from The New School, and has been published in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The New York Daily News, Forbes, QZ, and The Guardian, and has been featured in the anthologies “The Byline Bible” and “The Chicago Neighborhood Guidebook.
 

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