As a director, mentor and all-around talent-booster, Ben Rimalower has been a vital part of the downtown theater scene: he has helped create many Off-Broadway plays, concerts and cabaret performances. But Rimalower can now add performer to his resume with his one-man show Patti Issues, which details his passionate love for Patti LuPone against the background of his own difficult adolescence. The show opened at The Duplex in the West Village in late August and has since been extended numerous times (it runs, at least for now, through the end of February). “Well, this was my hope all along,” Rimalower says. “I comforted myself that the act of writing this and getting it onstage even once was a huge breakthrough for me, which it was and is, but I really wanted a big fat hit!”
Rimalower has worked with and been moved by lots of young, talented people during his time in New York, and they all have had effects on his work. “I took great inspiration from solo shows by my friends Dan Fishback, Joseph Keckler, Jeffery Self and Max Steele, and just the balls-to-the-wall show-biz guts of Erin Markey,” Rimalower says. “Rachel Shukert’s books were tremendously inspiring to me. I’m a big Sandra Bernhard fan—and I listen to her all the time anyway—but especially used her monologues to get in the mood to write, to tell stories. Also, Mike Daisey’s work gave me encouragement that I could intertwine seemingly unconnected narratives into an engaging through-line.”
Why does he think people keep coming to see his performance? “Everyone can relate to the show," Rimalower says, "regardless of their family situation or what stars shine brightest in their iTunes.” Rimalower started writing and workshopping Patti Issues three years ago. “I wanted to show some Patti LuPone videos and deconstruct them,” he says. “I asked Patti for permission to use the videos she had given me and she asked to see a draft of my show. What came out when I started writing was more focused on me than on Patti.” LuPone saw the show in September and supports it fully.
As the world’s undisputed biggest LuPone fan, Rimalower has very specific thoughts about her style and talent. “There’s a fierceness to Patti,” Rimalower says. “She has a taste for blood. That thrills me and holds my attention, even in the dark times, or especially in the dark times.” Of the diva’s many detractors, Rimalower says, “That kind of generous performance she gives requires enormous confidence—ego, even—to sustain, and a lot of people are uncomfortable with or offended by what they may perceive as a lack of humility.” Rimalower recently played Patti Issues in Los Angeles, and he’s happily still playing it at The Duplex for as long as audiences keep coming. “I’m also working on another solo play,” he says, “probably less focused on my family or on show business.”
Photo Christian Coulson