“Watching Dan Ruth prance, sashay, and tumble across the minimalist stage at the Lounge Theater in Hollywood in his magnificent one person play, “A Life Behind Bars,” was a mind bending emotional roller coaster ride. This production written and performed by the star is as honest and fulfilling as any show seen this year. Touted as ‘A Tour-de-force’ performance when it played off Broadway, this Fringe Festival entry is way above the rest.
Dan Ruth as the sole actor on a darkened stage is mesmerizing. His frantic movements; body and face contortions, and voice inflections are fascinating as he explains the sad, lonely and underrated life a Brooklyn bartender faced in his inevitable alcoholism downfall. This is not simply a journey of redemption, it is a renewal of the spirit. The portrayal of characters he meets along the way and his own demons is humorous and captivating. The millennial new money dudes proudly displaying ‘man buns’ highlight the attitudes reminiscence of spoiled rich babies. This will assuredly spark something of disgust in you. Their effect on New York City and all urban cities throughout the US in the past 20 years highlight the unfortunate changes to a world anyone over 35 has left behind. Here Dan despondently speaks of the changes to his beloved Williamsburg, Brooklyn. But these alterations ring throughout all of America. And then without missing a beat he switches from character to character. My favorite has to be the middle aged drunken Long Island women in town for a big Broadway musical. His uncanny facial and body expressions will have you splitting a gut. So right on with his subjects, Dan reminds me of those comedic greats of theater yesteryear. He is a true talent of the stage.
The quick and acerbic words are sometimes not fully understood. Even the local references at times seem to apply to those that only know the City, but it is all relatable. It is timely and sharp and it paints a delicious story of a life of unrealized dreams, sadness and connections. Dan, in the greatest city in the world, wanted to be a comic. Not unlike so many of the bartenders, waitresses and baristas in Los Angeles as well, it a chance life. He didn’t get the Saturday Night Live audition he hoped for and tending bar honed his skills as a keen observer of people. He saw life in New York City in the 90s and beyond as a city changing with the inevitable times. It is unclear whether the world around him propelled him into the depths of alcoholism or despair or it would have happened anyway. However, as with any addiction, the direction is very clear. There is only one way to go and for salvation of the spirit, Dan made an important and necessary choice. Getting there was complicated; leaving there would be just as demanding.
To watch such a talented and warm person spread bare the depths of his pain in a comical way is quite a feat. It is clear that this was part of that journey.”