Originally published in Paste magazine
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Blame it on Donald Trump, but this critic was not enthralled by spending 2 ½ hours watching yet another story about a childish, sexually entitled man crashing (uninvited) into people’s lives and causing destruction. And that’s exactly what takes place in Beardo, the adventurous but unfocused musical that has taken up residence in Brooklyn. But rather than the show seeking sanctuary, this critic felt the need for sanctuary from the show.
Presented by Pipeline Theatre Company, Beardo, which is directed by Ellie Heyman, features book and lyrics by Jason Craig and music by Dave Malloy, whose musical Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 is currently running on Broadway. Comparisons between Malloy’s two works are inevitable: both are decidedly unconventional, inventive, modern and set in Russia. But one is far superior to the other.
According to the press release, Beardo is supposed to “explores the mad inner workings of Rasputin, the infamous mystic who sexed his way to the fall of the Russian monarchy.” But this show is simply two and a half hours of a horny mansplainer who seemed to feel zero compassion for anyone and viewed himself as flawless—especially in bed.
Staged in the artistically shabby St. John’s Lutheran Church in Brooklyn, with the audience sitting in pews, surrounded by scaffolding, Beardo opens with some haunting, melancholy strains of music as the audience first meets the title character lying on the ground with his hand pushed into a hole. After being encouraged to remove his hand from the earth, Beardo, played with seemingly endless swagger by Damon Daunno, proceeds to invite chaos and wreak havoc on everyone and everything around him. When he meets a silent, repressed woman (Liz Leimkuhler) he “helps” her by scolding her repeatedly, snapping a rubber band on her arm until she speaks, having wild sex with her and then leaving her traumatized, after she, caught up in the frenzied energy of the moment, murders her own sister (Shaye Troha).
“I just want to be of service,” Beardo repeats as he enters, uninvited, the home of the Tsar and Tsarista, and proceeds to patronize and insult the Tsarista until she finds herself attracted to him. Played by Alex Highsmith, the Tsarista is burdened with worry about her sick son and her weak husband (a gamely funny Willy Appleman), which Highsmith communicates movingly to the audience. But her enchantment with Beardo is frustrating to witness, especially after the two have consummated their relationship, she proceeds to sing a reverent ballad about what a “blessing” he is and how she is “open to so much now,” simply because of one sexual encounter: “Through this Beardo we are blessed… Savior has come.”
Beardo’s sexual prowess is one of the many themes of the show that are repeated much too often. Act Two opens with women rapturously stripping down to lingerie around him while he claims that sleeping a woman is actually “Servicing her through God.” Both the lyrics and the book of the show are disappointingly immature, packed with childish jokes about masturbation and lines like, “Nobody fucks with this fucker,” performed in sharp contrast with the score, performed by conductor Sam Kulik (guitar), Blake Allen (viola), Ezra Gale (bass), Sarah Haines (violin), Susan Mandel (cello) and Hajnal Pivnick (violin).
Most of the jokes in Beardo go on for far too long, especially a bizarre second-act ballet that is neither humorous nor entertaining, despite being gamely performed by Brian Bock, Rolls Andre and Ben Langhorst, as well as the gag that Beardo is harboring a “stowaway” in his head, represented by a loud discordant noise that interrupts the show.
There is actually potential for Beardo to be a politically relevant show, as the few moments of the story that do not revolve around his sexual prowess depict the story of revolution in Russia. A repeated refrain about “an outside man” is all too relevant to the Presidential election and news regarding immigration, while the line, “Marble castle’s going to crumble from power of people pushing back” is haunting. But any topical impact is quickly evaporated by Beardo singing an entire song about a Wikipedia page “dedicated to [his] dick.” And the attempts to murder Rasputin, the failure of which are part of the mythology surrounding the man, are anticlimactic at best.
Rasputin has long been the subject of cultural fascination and has been immortalized in entertainment, but modernizing him through adolescent humor and cheap jokes, and making him nothing more than an entitled man-child who, is not an effective or creative way to explore this subject. If I wanted to hear a man encourage me to “loosen up,” I could go to a bar and decline an offer for a man to buy me a drink.