Wake Up and Smell the Coffee review by Mike Long

Like many DVD collectors, I have a "Wish List" of favorite films which haven't made it to DVD just yet. At the top of this list is Phantasm II...which has absolutely nothing at all to do with this review. However, a little further down the list, one will find Eric Bogosian's 1991 film Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll, which remains MIA on DVD. Fortunately, another of Bogosian's one-man performance pieces, Wake Up and Smell the Coffee, has come to DVD, and this will hold me over for a while.

If you've never seen one of Bogosian's one-man shows, allow me to describe them. What he does on-stage is like nothing that I've seen elsewhere (of course, I don't frequent one-man shows, so his technique may not be all that unique). Bogosian's shows aren't made up of soliloquies, nor is he a stand up comedian. His work is somewhere in-between. Bogosian creates characters on-stage and places them into dramatic situations. In most cases, he is essentially acting out a scene from a play, only he is alone on stage with little to no set design. Through his actions, the audience is able to imagine the setting which the character is in and the dialogue coming from the other "imaginary" characters in the scene. I liken it to hearing one side of a telephone conversation -- although you can't hear what the person on the other end is saying, your mind automatically fills in that dialogue from the responses that you are hearing.

Wake Up and Smell the Coffee was originated by Bogosian at the Jane Street Theater in New York in 2000, and the performance captured on this DVD was taped in early 2001. (There's a personal note from Bogosian at the opening of the DVD which states that since 9/11, he doesn't perform the show in its entirety.) He does break character in Wake Up and Smell the Coffee by coming out on stage as...well, himself at the show's opening, but soon launches into his characters. While Bogosian always comes across as angry in his shows, he seems particularly angry with Wake Up and Smell the Coffee and doesn't hesitate to attack American society. His characters talk about religion, the arrogance and ignorance of Americans, and the way we tirelessly work to better ourselves, while we are only getting sicker. He then takes the show into more personal territory by talking about the cult of celebrity by discussing his desire to be a famous star, whether that be through acting, surviving a disaster, or both combined. This segues into a rant, which seems to be coming from Bogosian himself, about how there are very few "rebels" left today. The show closes with Bogosian becoming a hippie who is seeking his destiny. The only props that Bogosian uses in the show are a microphone stand and a chair and there are occasional lighting and music effects to set the scene.

One word which easily describes Wake Up and Smell the Coffee is provocative, as is will provoke many responses in the viewer. For starters, the show is quite funny at times. Once again, Bogosian is not a stand-up comedian, but he works humor into his act, and while Wake Up and Smell the Coffee isn't as laugh-out-loud funny as Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll, there were some moments when I was chuckling to myself (especially during his description of God and also the man in therapy) and many more poignant gems which brought a smile to my face. Secondly, the show will bring forth an emotional response based solely on the "in your face" material. Bogosian speaks on some heady topics which most can relate to and when he begins to rant about how we are all fooling ourselves or how we worship celebrities, one can't help but think about how they fit into that equation. Thirdly, when watching Wake Up and Smell the Coffee, one can't help but wonder where the performance ends and the real Eric Bogosian begins. Much of the material sounds very autobiograhpical, especially when he describes the acting audition process and the angst of being a minor celebrity. When Bogosian admits to being a hypocrite, the show goes to a very uncomfortable place -- a move that will either win over or alienate most of the audience. I didn't find Wake Up and Smell the Coffee nearly as fascinating as Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll, mostly because Bogosian broke character so often. Yet, the play is entertaining and thought provoking, and will have to do until Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll hits DVD.

Wake Up and Smell the Coffee perks onto DVD courtesy of Docurama, IFC, and New Video. The show was shot on digital video and the image is presented in a 4:3 aspect ratio. The picture is very clear and sharp, although it does go a little soft at times. When Bogosian makes sudden movements, there is some noticeable pixellation on the image. The colors are good, but the reds seem a bit harsh, and bright whites create minor video noise. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital stereo audio track. This offers clear dialogue from Bogosian, which is never drowned out by the crowd noise.

The DVD carries a 12-minute interview with Bogosian, as he discusses the origins of Wake Up and Smell the Coffee and the nature of his work. There are also biographies for Bogosian and the principle crew.

6 out of 10 Jackasses

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