Written By: Jenna Kunselman
Last weekend, A Life Behind Bars returned to Carnegie Stage with fierce vigor and vivacity as Dan Ruth told his life story through hysterical monologues, poking fun at the huge personalities of those prowling the dive bars in NYC’s theater district and beyond. There’s something special about the nature of this one-man comedy show: With very limited set design, it stimulates a full range of emotions as Ruth uses witty, cynical storytelling to invite the audience to invade his personal thoughts while he brings the vibrant characters of the city and their drinking habits to life. We’re given a taste of what it’s like serving a variety of patrons, from entitled locals to pretentious theatergoers, fending off pesky health inspectors, and fighting the urge to nurse every growing problem with the ever-present drink within arm’s reach. Ruth uses his abundance of experience with alcohol sales and consumption combined with New York’s imminent gentrification to delve deep into each personality, inspired by some of the most memorable patrons he has encountered behind bars. We are reminded that our friendly neighborhood bartenders often have other goals and aspirations as Ruth spends his free time chasing, and eventually achieving, his acting dreams. Through unapologetically wacky and humorous vignettes, we learn the do’s and don’ts of bar patron etiquette as well as the most cringe-worthy ways to demand a drink. We discover the undesirable truths of apartment living in NYC when we meet Ruth’s oddball landlord, who, like many landlords, is invasive, eccentric, and persnickety. Ruth truly shines when he paints a vulnerable, vivid image of the spiraling chaos he dealt with in his struggle with addiction, tugging on our heart strings as we hope for his success. Fortunately, the award-winning story he shares ends in a triumphant thirteen years of sobriety, inspiring crowds of theater goers across the United States.