“His whole life has been leading up to this,” reads the witty headline on the program of “Joe Charnitski’s Funeral,” a longform solo storytelling show written and performed by NYU alum Joe Charnitski.
As a part of this year’s FRIGID New York Festival — an alternative theater gathering — the show exemplifies the festival’s fringe moniker that challenges the boundaries of theater, storytelling and comedy.
“Joe Charnitski’s Funeral” is a one-man show and heartfelt memoir that documents Charnitski delivering eulogies at his father’s and grandfather’s funerals — both of whom were his namesake. Throughout the evening, Charnitski reflects on his struggle to balance his family’s roots in rural Pennsylvania with his dream to study film at NYU. Charnitski ultimately confronts the issue of redefining himself and his success based on his circumstances. He also ultimately wrestles with fate for more time and control in his life.
Infused with humorous aphorisms, the performance is both a source of comic relief and a cause for reflection. It is relatable, especially for NYU students who left their hometowns for big city dreams.
When transitioning between scenes, Charnitski skillfully alters his tone and intensity, techniques, which remove the theatrical facade to foster intimacy with the audience. The small venue at which this took place paired with the sparse props further cultivated this effect — only a table, chair, music stand, water bottle and tuxedo lie on stage. Throughout the show, Charnitski gradually puts on the tuxedo, adding another piece before each eulogy to mark the passage of time. Charnitski is not dressed in time for his grandfather’s or father’s funeral, but he is ready for his own.
In the eulogy for his father, Charnitski referenced their conversation that captured the overlap between parents and their children.
“I take my shots,” Charnitski recalled himself saying to his dad.
His father then joked, “Yeah, but you’re using our bullets.”
Charnitski ends the show by breaking the fourth wall, leaving the audience to wonder whether the show was a theatrical work or a candid story told from the stage.
“What kind of legacy do I leave behind?” Charnitski asked. “Maybe that’s why I tell my stories. Good night.”
“Joe Charnitski’s Funeral” opened on Feb. 17 and will run through March 2 at The Kraine Theater as part of the 2017 FRIGID New York Festival. Tickets are $10.
Email Sarah Jackson at [email protected].