By Mikey Miller
The lights rise on a man, Arthur, clad in full pro athletic gear, bicycling near the George Washington Bridge. He is world‑weary, cursing everything coming his way that could interrupt his ride in the slightest. His personal and professional life are not where he wants them to be. “I’m dying,” he tells us, deciding that he can’t call up any of his siblings for comfort because he doesn’t want to mar the mandatory pleasantries of normal human interaction. He brings us back in time to show how he got here.
Arthur was born and raised in Kentucky, as one of six children. His childhood was marked by lashings from his father, who said he only beat him out of love. During his adolescence, he crashed his car on his first date. After moving to New York during his late teenage years, he struggled to find work as an actor. He waited tables for several years before deciding to take a leap of faith and buy an old restaurant. He made much‑needed renovations to the eatery, causing it to lose its character for the customers who had been frequenting it for decades. His business partner (who managed the books) accused him of embezzlement, all while Arthur was dealing with a strange, difficult‑to‑diagnose ailment. After three decades in New York, he was stuck with thousands of dollars of debt from his failed business venture. His show ends where it began: on a bicycle. He eventually found new meaning teaching a group fitness spin class.
At first glance, “Swimming in Mudd” might feel like your run‑of‑the‑mill solo show. A small‑town boy with big ambitions makes his way to the Big Apple, embarking on that quixotic quest to find success as an actor. And when that doesn’t work out, he settles into a different career, one in which he may not be as happy, but one that, after the adversity he had faced, makes him content. However, Mr. Mudd’s variant on the genre is much more than that.
The same scenario plays out over and over again: Arthur is excited for some big opportunity in his life. He puts his all into it, knowing that‑even when it’s something as small as getting his first job, or procuring an acting school recommendation from a “working actress” on his first‑ever subway trip‑it must lead to something bigger. He approaches each opportunity with the same unflagging optimism, only to be fated for ultimate defeat. But he won’t be brought down, even when plagued by an almost‑immeasurable financial burden and a full‑body itch that won’t go away. Instead, he finds solace in bike‑riding and writing.
Mr. Mudd portrays his life with a finely tuned balance of delicacy and self‑sadistic humor. Instead of presenting a depressing evening rife with cries of “Woe is me,” he looks back on his life with complete hindsight, knowing that it has the ingredients of a dark comedy, a cautionary tale, more or less. Rather than laughing at him, you find yourself laughing with Mr. Mudd‑who resembles an alternate‑universe Elmer Fudd, one who is no longer obsessed with catching Bugs Bunny, and who understands that the world has its unique ways of setting you toward a destiny you might have never imagined. He earned a standing ovation from the near‑full house, which included quite a few of his five siblings.
“Swimming in Mudd”
Written and Performed by John Mudd
Directed by Geoffrey Owens
October 19 at 6 PM
Photo: courtesy of the production
2019 United Solo Festival
410 West 42nd Street
New York City
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MIKEY MILLER is an actor, writer, and tutor based in Jersey City, NJ. He received his BA in English with a minor in theatre arts from the University of Pennsylvania in 2018. Since then, Mikey has acted in off-Broadway and regional productions and worked as a freelance writer for publications such as StageAgent and ShowTickets.