The title of Maureen Langan’s solo show, “Daughter of a Garbageman,” now at The Marsh, may be unprepossessing, but make no mistake: This is a thick, well-structured, funny and touching examination of—well, as the witty Langan declares right off, of why she doesn’t have the book deal, the fame, the acclaim of that chucklehead Kim Kardashian.
“I was an English major! I diagram sentences!” she protests, and, hilariously, describes the function of the semi-colon and the em-dash.
Every bit of her hour-long monologue, including that explanation of punctuation, and indeed every item that comprises her show — right down to her eye-catching purple shoes — is purposeful, skillfully interwoven into her narrative. Nothing meanders, nothing is extraneous.
Langan, who was born and raised Irish-Catholic in a large family in New Jersey, lives partly in San Francisco and partly in New York.
She is a longtime standup comedian, radio talk show host and journalist and as such she is completely assured, juggling multiple balls, metaphorically speaking, and maintaining a smooth, brisk flow that keeps us engaged every step of the way.
That’s partly due to direction by San Francisco’s gift to the solo performance world, David Ford.
And it’s partly because Langan is also a talented actress, convincingly embodying her unhappy and secretive Irish-born mother, who whistles plaintively as she washes dishes (nearly driving her daughter nuts), and the alcoholic and at times abusive Bronx-born father, a New York “sanitation worker,” whom she portrays as a swaggering Archie Bunker type.
But mainly it’s because she has something to say about family relationships, self-acceptance and American culture and is willing to be completely honest without sacrificing her killer sense of humor.
Is it her parents, she wonders, whom she should blame for her relative lack of success?
Or perhaps, she suggests, America itself is responsible for rewarding the undeserving and the talentless and bypassing worthy English majors like herself.
By the time she has introduced her thesis and launched into scenes from her childhood to prove–or disprove–her various points, she has established a warm connection with the audience, striking just the right notes of friendly familiarity and polished stage presence.
There is, though, one section that warrants deeper examination: her childhood phobia about eating. We care about her, and want to better understand the life-threatening issue and its resolution. Perhaps that’s material for another, equally funny and affecting solo show.
Daughter of a Garbageman
Where: Marsh, 1062 Valencia St., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays, 5 p.m. Saturdays; closes March 25
Tickets: $20 to $100
Contact: (415) 282-3055, www.themarsh.org
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