It’s a Dark Journey in the Theatre: Ben Strothmann’s Virtual Memory

By BART GREENBERG****Ben Strothmann takes the audience on the journey of his life in his new play Virtual Memory. Presented as part of the 26th Annual Hot! Festival, the actor took the stage at the Dixon Place, a wonderful hidden-away space performance space on the Lower East Side.  Strothmann, well known as a photographer, vegan chef and drag performer under the name of his alter-ego, Honey LaBronx, made his first venture here as a playwright.

He shows amazing openness and frankness in telling and acting out the story of his life, major warts and all. The first half of the tale recounts his young life as an eccentric child in a loving, if at times perplexed, family. Passing through childhood crushes on Foghorn Leghorn and The Pink Panther, Strothmann soon developed innocent interests in boys in school. Experiments in “messing around” and masturbation, and rough lessons in when and where it was safe to be “out” were endured, often with hilarious results.

The second half of the play turns much darker: drug abuse, prostitution, depression. Strothmann is brutally honest about how far he fell and the tremendous cost these dark times took from him. There is still some dark humor here, but it is a grim experience to sit through.

He excels at creating, on the stage,  a life full of people whom he knew, loved and hated. They all come vividly alive without his resorting to silly voices or costume changes. Where he and director Mark Finley fail is in uniting these two parts of his life. Without any suggestion at the start of where we are going, an awkward shift occurs between childhood and adulthood, and between light and dark, that leaves the audience without a sense of place or an understanding of how we got there.  

For now, Virtual Memory is an incomplete journey. With some revision and reconsideration to unite the two very different stories being told, the already intriguing piece can become intense and satisfying theatre.

Photos: Steven Fontas

Dixon Place is at 161-A Christie Street in Manhattan.  Their eclectic upcoming events in theatre, dance, music, one-person shows, and much more, see www.Dixon Place.org