Carrollton — With dramatic characters, narcissism is typically a secondary trait that highlights a bigger flaw. As in, that drug problem will be her downfall, and the fact that she’s a narcissist doesn’t help. Or, he’s a serial killer and, oh yes, he has a serious problem with that sympathy thing.
Brock Besson, on the other hand, is a straight-up narcissist in the one-man play I’m Always On My Mind, written by Scott Rolfe Josephson and conceptualized by Leslie O’Hare and Lisa Bills. The show, directed by Linda Leonard, marks the debut of Uppermost Entertainment, O’Hare and Bills' for-profit venture. It's performed in a handsome black box theater called Theatre 166 in north Carrollton.
Ken Orman plays Besson, a successful, single, attractive Manhattan man who in three scenes—and between talking about himself, of course—is told by one woman that he’s a narcissist and then goes on a quest to discover whether that’s true. As if he didn’t know.
He makes an appointment with a psychologist who’s an authority on narcissistic personality disorder, which leads him to visit LA where he becomes a guest on a minor Dr. Phil-like talk show. That puts him in a small spotlight. Suddenly he's trending on Twitter and he follows his obsession (himself, of course) until he comes to the shocking realization that yes, he is indeed a narcissist.
Josephson peppers the journey with some funny details and sidelines, such as Besson’s sexual adventures (he’s sexist, too), and he loves Elvis Presley’s version of the song “Always On My Mind” (thus, the show’s clever title). But he also overplays some of the character’s crutches, notably Besson’s overuse of the phrase “but I digress.” It works about half the time, and most of the other times it’s not an actual digression.
The show looks great with a simple set of a love seat and minimal apartment decorations, and smart video projections put us in the other scenes, such as a baseball stadium or busy cocktail bar.
Orman is terrific. Actors in general are perfect vehicles to convey the idea of narcissism, because hello. Orman looks the part and carries himself like someone who is always on his own mind, and he skillfully walks the line between sleazeball and charmer. It’s the kind of confidence that emboldens an average-looking man to approach the hottest people in a bar and go home with one of them—although Orman has the advantage of being good-looking, too.
The character arc looks more like a straight line, angled upwards—but not all characters have to experience radical change. Think of the myth of Narcissus, who stared so hard at his reflection in the water that he drowned.
Such a crash might make more sense here, but instead, this show closes with one of the most bizarre endings I’ve ever seen. After detailing his journey, he closes by breaking into a song about being a narcissist. It’s a look-at-me, jazz-handsy number that he kicklines into the wings—and it doesn’t help that despite Orman’s skills as an actor, a singer he is not.
Perhaps an introspective reprise of “Always On My Mind,” a song that expresses regret, would have had more punch. But as is, it doesn’t leave us wanting to know more about this character. And for a character Uppermost plans to develop more—this show has been filmed and is being pitched to television producers—that could be an issue, because audiences will still see this play as a self-contained event without a satisfying ending.
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