By Jon Reiss
Smartly, the author and principal actor of “Stations Lost” Tony Fitzpatrick doesn’t mention his career as a radio personality until late in the show. He doesn’t mention his rather successful career as an actor at all. Eventually he reveals his past career on the radio alongside his reasons for leaving. His disdain for the Rush Limbaugh’s of the world and his exasperation over the proliferation of hate in the radio industry reveals itself as the show’s ah-ha moment. Amazingly, it coalesces with what he’s been saying all along, his fascination with good and evil, his reasons for going to Istanbul and the title of the show itself, it all hits you at once like a great Arthur Miller play. Before you know it, Fitzpatrick has hustled his way into brilliance and those hurtles from 100 minutes beforehand seem a distant memory. A show this good bolsters not only The Boiler, but the Williamsburg theater scene in general. Catch this show before it disappears from the dial. There are only five performances left.
Tony Fitzpatrick is an artist whose day of the dead meets DC Comics style has earned him worldwide recognition and gallery shows across the country. Fitzpatrick is one of those rare artists whose work is its own universe that he invites his patrons to inhabit. With its fixed set of characters, themes and rules, Fitzpatrick’s work is likely to draw comparisons to Henry Darger and Daniel Johnston, except Fitzpatrick isn’t crazy (at least not clinically.) More than most of his contemporaries Fitzpatrick is a storyteller, however, his own life story is mostly absent from his imagery.
Stations Lost, Fitzpatrick’s new one-man style, two-man show at The Boiler theater in Williamsburg, has a far different aim from his artwork thus far. He may have created a world of his own in his artwork, but Stations Lost exists in the artist’s personal reality, as well as that of his manager Stan Klein who keeps Fitzpatrick’s translation of that reality in check. The two characters come together to tell the story of Fitzpatrick’s trajectory as an artist. Stations Lost is an auto-biopic on stage, a passion project of an artist telling his own life story with a strong, underlying political agenda. In other words, Stations Loston its face is a hard pill for most theatergoers to swallow, a theatrical challenge for Tony Fitzpatrick and company to overcome.
As soon as he walks on stage to the music of one electric guitarist and one brassy female soul singer, Fitzpatrick is shot out of a cannon. Clearly, the man knows what he’s up against. Wearing a pair of beaten up jeans and a cutoff T-shirt, Fitzpatrick addresses the audience first hand, looking like a perfect cross between author Sam Lipsyte and John Goodman. He speaks in a steady roar, with a cadence that’s one part stand up comic and two parts beat poet, only backed by a steady soul soundtrack instead of jazz. He begins the show with an anecdote about his Catholic grade school days, recounting the time he decided he decided to stand up to a nun’s ruler. The story winds up being more than just a childhood memory, but a conduit to understanding the artist’s fascination with comic books and the relationship between good and evil.
At right, blues vocalist Grana Louise, and musician Steven Doyle.The narrative proceeds, alternating between two distant terrains. We ride along with Fitzpatrick amongst the yellow dash lines of route 66, on a journey to become a great American artist. Unable to drive thanks to a series of DUI’s, ever-present is Fitzpatrick’s manager, Stan and together the two live out theirOn The Road fantasy as they travel between galleries. Instead of being a meditation on the art world, this portion of the story is more a celebration of modern Americana as the artist explains his fascination with Cleveland and his love for The Temptations. The other portion of the story is a trip to Istanbul, predicated on an interaction with a haughty dinner guest who asserted that “there’s no such thing as a peaceful Muslim country.” While the two stories differ in content, they’re contextually quite similar. Beneath both stories is an exploration of the relationship between life and art, and an examination of the hate filled atmosphere of a post 9/11 world. Interspersed between stories are video montages of Fitzpatrick’s work set to music, acting as transitions between passages of time, as well as opportunities for Fitzpatrick to hotbox a cigarette during the performance.
The great challenges of any unconventional theatrical performance is to make the audience forget they’re watching an unconventional play, for the storytelling devices to melt away and to leave only the narrative. For Fitzpatrick, there’s the problem of telling a story with many characters, places and things, with only two performers and one set. Add on top of that the self indulgent-ness of an artist telling his own life story and a political agenda of any kind, and you’ve some major hurtles to clear in order to win over an audience, but that’s beauty of Stations Lost. Tony Fitzpatrick is a hustler, he’s a man who revels in overcoming challenges, and thus far it’s been the lynchpin to his success. His burly, biker badass facade and sensitive, gooey artist persona coupled with a gift for gab makes for a truly infectious presence on stage. Whether it’s his surprising addiction to Facebook, his fear of flying, or his fascination with moths, every quirk of Fitzpatrick’s seems terribly compelling by show’s end.