Broadway 1998: Five producers, four co-producers, one associate producer, three actors and no play. Rob Bartlett's "More to Love" suggests a variation on those lightbulb jokes "How many producers does it take to convince an audience that a good standup show is really a play?"
Bartlett, best known for his work on "Imus in the Morning," is a fine comedian. He has a physical presence large enough in every sense to dominate a big Broadway theater, an innate sense of timing and a dazzling range of voices and tones.
It is, of course, possible to translate these gifts into a piece of theater.
John Leguizamo did it with "Freak." Colin Quinn did it with "An Irish Wake."
What Leguizamo and Quinn managed, however, was the terrific feat of conjuring up a whole world by themselves.
They populated the stage with a wide array of characters. By throwing open their own stores of memory, they created large but coherent dramas.
Bartlett doesn't manage to do this.
"More to Love" tries to make the same transition from standup routine to play. But it gets no farther than a no-man's-land between one form and the other.
The piece begins strongly with Bartlett on stage at the "Comedy Gulag," forgetting his act before an audience that may or may not include a producer from HBO.
It then moves to the comedian's garage in Long Island (a chaos superbly organized by designer David Gallo) the following morning.
The notion of a man at a moment of professional crisis as he approaches his 40th birthday certainly has dramatic potential.
Bartlett tries to make it a play by bringing on two more characters, his wife and his agent.
This gesture is, though, half-hearted. The roles are so underwritten that Dana Reeve and Joyce Van Patten, capable as they are, are mere cyphers.
The purity of the one-man show is sacrificed, but no real drama is created in return.
This sense of falling between two forms is made stronger by Bartlett's apparent lack of faith in his autobiographical material.
His memories of growing up in Brooklyn and Long Island, especially of his unhappy relationship with his father, are often vivid and moving.
But he seems not to trust their power. He keeps reaching for entirely irrelevant material from his standup act, routines about McDonald's, airlines, game shows and so on.
All of this is reasonably funny and it makes the time pass pleasantly.
But it also suggests a lack of confidence in Bartlett's ability to hold the audience while he explores the more painful corners of memory.
If he was less anxious to please, Bartlett might have created a show in which there was more to love.
It's revealing that the set for ''More to Love: A Big Fat Comedy'' is a vast, cluttered garage, because the production that unfolds around it is a big fat mess.
Less than a play, less, even, than a memorable club date, ''More to Love'' aspires to some strange hybrid performance genre: call it stand-up dramedy.
Written by and starring Rob Bartlett, best known for his contributions to Don Imus's radio show, this trite piece is only entertaining (and sporadically so at that) when Mr. Bartlett drops the dramatic charade, parks himself center stage and riffs on such comedian-friendly topics as airline travel and fast-food joints. For the rest, the most helpful critical judgment that can be offered is: avert your eyes.
Here are some examples of how dumb this concoction is. The appealing Dana Reeve, portraying Mr. Bartlett's long-suffering wife, with the usual assortment of sitcom gestures (hands placed on hips, eyes rolling), is required to strip to a bustier and romance her mate with a ''Hey, big spender'' kind of number that makes fun of her husband's girth (sample lyric: ''It was so tough/To get enough/Until I fell for you'').
You want more evidence? The veteran actress Joyce Van Patten plays an electric fuse.
The idea is that Ms. Van Patten, as Mr. Bartlett's stereotypically obnoxious agent, Maxine, carries on a fantasy dialogue with her client in the garage, a device that requires Ms. Van Patten to pop out of storage bins and the like. At one point, Mr. Bartlett opens the fuse box, and there is poor Ms. Van Patten doing the tough-dame routine and wearing an odd little electric-fuse crown.
Maxine is hanging around Mr. Bartlett's garage thanks to the utterly disposable premise of the play, which opened last night at the Eugene O'Neill Theater.
Mr. Bartlett, called ''Rob'' here, is in a lamentable state. Not only does his wife make those endless fat jokes at his expense (her name is Alice, like ''The Honeymooners'' character, get it?), but Rob also has a problem that any of America's estimated 33.7 million working funnymen -- the show's apparent target audience -- can relate to. He's on the verge of inking a deal for his first HBO special, and well, he just doesn't feel appreciated for the true comic genius he is. He's turning 40; younger comics are leaving him in the dust, and self-doubt is bearing down on his ego.
Meanwhile, Alice strolls in from the house, to hand Rob a cup of coffee or something (good girl!) or to lecture him halfheartedly for not cleaning the garage, designed, by the way, by no less a scenic magician than David Gallo. (The director, to his discredit, is Jack O'Brien.) Between Ms. Reeve's long, cross-stage treks, Mr. Bartlett segues into a canned stand-up act. Some of the standard-issue material is not bad, especially Mr. Bartlett's impressions of a flight attendant's safety precaution mime show and of a Jordanian contestant on an Arabic ''Wheel of Fortune.''
Which begs the question: Who talked Mr. Bartlett into this dopey dog-and-pony show?
At the end of the production, Rob learns that the HBO deal has fallen through; there's a chance instead of going to Broadway. ''More to Love'' certainly makes that seem like the booby prize.
Rob Bartlett, best known for his contributions to Don Imus' radio show, is the latest comic to bring his shtick to Broadway, in a standup act masquerading as a play called "More to Love." Would that there were: Even as nightclub comedy , Bartlett's show only occasionally rises beyond mediocrity.
Bartlett plays himself, a comedian of admittedly unprepossessing aspect whose misery over former colleagues' success is increasing as he approaches his 40th birthday. On the Saturday morning when the play takes place, the holy grail of an HBO special is within reach, and Rob spends an anxious hour and a half waiting for news from his agent while making half-hearted attempts to obey his sweet wife Alice's imprecations to clean out the garage.
Although Alice (Dana Reeve) arrives from offstage every few minutes proffering food or points of conflict, most of the play consists of Bartlett directly addressing the audience with a range of familiar standup setpieces: a long riff on air travel and the silliness of safety instructions, a subject that Jerry Seinfeld treated more wittily and more succinctly on Broadway two months ago; some modestly funny and modestly self-directed fat jokes ("You know you're overweight when your cholesterol count has a comma in it"); and the perils and joys of fast food, one of his more engaging topics. Wondering at the astonishingly high temperature of McDonald's hot apple pies, he quips, "I wanna eat the thing, not melt steel ingots in it!" Bartlett is likable enough in a put-upon guy way, notwithstanding some nasty ethnic jokes, but neither material nor delivery is distinctive.
There are some sentimental diversions, as Alice carps that Rob isn't giving enough attention to his sons, and Rob recalls his own strained relationship with his father, but this material is trite and perfunctory, save for a genuinely funny rewrite of "Twas the Night Before Christmas" that Rob re-enacts his father delivering in thick Brooklyn-ese.
For some reason it was considered necessary to give Reeve a splashy song (or the show a title), so at midpoint she performs a bump-and-grind number, singing to Bartlett, "You're my extra chunky hunk o' burning love" in Vegas vamp attire. Unfortunately, Reeve is a genial ingenue type, so the effect is like Kathie Lee Gifford attempting Velma Kelly in "Chicago." Also on hand is Joyce Van Patten, playing Rob's sharp-tongued agent and making an authentic character out of very little material.
The show's most lovable aspect is David Gallo's charming set, a fantastically oversized garage (with a normal-sized basketball hoop pinned comically above it) filled with all manner of intriguing-looking detritus: defunct stereos, dusty holiday decorations, eviscerated lawn chairs, hula hoops. There's more magic and wit in the show's background --- literally --- than in its meagerly amusing text.