note: entire contents copyright 2007 by Caroline Burlingham Ellis
Special to Theater Mirror
There’s a very good rock band playing original songs in an improv theater piece at Jimmy Tingle’s Off Broadway Theater in Somerville. The band is called Jim’s Big Ego, and the sometimes wry, sometimes intense songs are by Jim Infantino, a local guy who deserves a big following.
The concept of the low-tech production, “The Ego and the Oracle,” is based on master of ceremonies Andras Jones’s radio program. It involves asking audience members to write questions that an Oracle will respond to in a typically oblique oracular fashion. The playgoer whose question is drawn from a question box spins a wheel of fortune that features Jim’s Big Ego song titles written on the spokes. The trio performs the chosen song, and then Infantino, the audience participant, and Jones all interpret how the song has answered the playgoer’s question.
The show begins with the band playing the theme song--Infantino on guitar and vocals, Dan Cantor on percussion, and Jesse Flack on bass. Jones enters and rambles a while about a Bob Dylan book he has been reading on the subway right before the show. He describes how Dylan loved Balzac and how Dylan and Balzac and riding on the T all tie to “synchronicity” and divination and the interactive event the audience is about to enjoy. Mercifully, he then pulls a question from the Oracle’s question box.
Playgoer Russ comes up on the stage,--an earnest, embarrassed man, opening himself up to whatever happens. His question is, “Should I change careers at 60?” Russ spins the wheel and it lands on “Math Prof Rock Star,” a rollicking song Infantino has written about his brother and the unexpected side effects of teaching college math. Jones then interprets the Oracle wheel’s choice of song as an indication that Russ could become a teacher. Russ looks flummoxed. Compassionate applause follows him back to his seat.
The band, the concept, and the sincerity of the audience participants are all great. Jones needs the hook, but since it is his concept, he probably won’t get it. His interpretations are beyond inane. The best way to enjoy what is actually a fun evening is not to take him as seriously as he takes himself.
Next a waitress asks the Oracle if she will be famous and gets as an answer the clever, wistful number “In a Bar,” which makes her laugh. After the song, she tells Jones, “Somehow I always knew.” Infantino says his inspiration for the song came while playing in a crowded bar called Toad and observing the sad, anxious action there. His line “You can take a sociopath back home with you” got a big laugh, especially from the waitress.
Another woman in the audience wonders, “Which of my worries should I stop worrying about?” She spins the wheel and elicits the song “Asshole,” which seems to suggest that she should give up on a person who is one. Anyway, that is what Infantino says he finally had to do when the subject of the song let him down. (It was amusing to watch drummer Cantor’s face as Infantino explained that; Cantor must have known the story.) The lyrics were ones the audience could relate to and included, “I know you had a hard time when you were only nine, but that was long ago and now there’s no denying: you’re an asshole.”
By way of helpful interpretation, Jones tells the woman that sometimes the words “don’t be an asshole” run through his head with reference to himself. He suggests that if that is something that happens to her, she might do what he does: He decides not to censure himself but to let other people decide if he’s an asshole. (Perhaps he should not have opened up that train of thought. After all, he has kept this synchronicity act going in Olympia, Washington, for a decade, and he might not have been up to snuff after taking the red-eye to Boston the night before.)
“The Ego and the Oracle” has a terrific finale, which is improvised on the spot by Infantino singing all the unused questions and repeating one as a refrain, accompanied by Flack and Cantor. People went out of the theater singing, and it was possible to hear in the Davis Square MBTA station a short time later the finale’s refrain (submitted by a child to the Oracle but sung at the T stop by the waitress who will be famous in a bar): “Will I get a pet monkey?”
“The Ego & The Oracle” runs every Sunday through June 17 at Jimmy Tingle’s Off Broadway Theater, , Somerville. For more information, call (866) 811-4111.