'Everything You've Done' is too good to question
Those who showed up for opening night of "Everything You've Done to Hurt Me: A Spiteful Break Up Letter" at Teatro Zuccone expecting some homegrown and homespun version of that viral classic, "The Most Deranged Sorority Girl Email You Will Ever Read," certainly got more than they bargained for.
The anonymously written 20-page letter, presented as a performance piece by Jonathan James Manchester with original songs by Brian Ring, constitutes a rather short but absolutely mesmerizing example of theater of a most unusual kind.
Because there was no program, Manchester appeared before the performance to give a brief explanation of the finding of the notebook containing the letter, and how his performance would duplicate the errors in spelling and syntax, suggesting that when that happened we should "pick it up."
The letter begins strictly structured by a first main point and supporting arguments A, B and C. Then the first spelling mistook sort of slapped the audience in the face, and the cold logic that fueled the orderly progression of points was transformed into a heated, emotional diatribe that mixed vituperative scorn with deep-seated pain.
Despite the laughs that came every time the world "jelleous" was used (that being my phonetic rendering of Manchester's phonetic pronunciation of the actual misspelling), the selling point here is the heartfelt and heart-rending articulation of everything his ex-
girlfriend did to hurt him. The raw emotional honesty of the letter, more than anything else, is what made this compelling.
Manchester's performance presents the letter earnestly without being self-conscious. He is angry without become totally enraged. I think his pacing early on is a tad faster than it should be, but on opening night he certainly knew where all the laughs were going to be and played off of them quite nicely.
The third segment is where the letter shatters the looking glass. I do not want to give away anything, but when this bombshell gets dropped the audience gasped and I swear I could hear News Tribune editor Robin Washington, sitting in the front row, thinking: "Son, you buried the lead. Big time."
The letter is presented in four segments, and in between Brian Ring, who was at a disadvantage because in musical theater songs are specifically being set up (e.g., "So, what would have been so terrible if I had a small fortune?"). However, here the breaks were determined by changes in the topics and tenor of the letter and not where the songs would best fit.
This idea is validated by the third and final song being the noteworthy exception, where the audience was clearly on board with its sardonic irony because that whole segment was a perfect set up for the song.
Now, I am a child of the '60s, made distrustful and paranoid by Richard Nixon's twin legacies of Vietnam and Watergate. I hold dear Abraham Lincoln's warning about not believing everything you read on the Internet. I know about the Royal Nonesuch and the recent rumors that Andy Kaufman is still alive.
So I was suspicious walking in about the entire backstory regarding the letter, even before somebody in the audience started shouting out questions as to how Manchester knew the letter was written about a woman or by a man.
Afterward, I was still thinking this whole thing is too good to be true. But you know what? The "too good" part trumps any and all questions regarding its veracity.
If you go
What: "Everything You've Done That Hurt Me"
Where: Teatro Zuccone, 222 E. Superior St.
When: 8 p.m. today and Nov. 29-30
Lawrance Bernabo wrote this review in four times the time it took to see the show and still got it in half an hour early.