We live in an era of magnified perceptions. For many Americans not in the glorified, hyper-wealthy one percent, this is a time of diminished possibilities and loss of hope. David Ippolito and Gretchen Cryer precisely target those perceptions in a magnificent new play, Possibility Junkie. They hit a slam dunk home run!
Possibility Junkie is a timely look at how we frame our lives and our definition of success in a culture where corporate media and propaganda portrayed as “news” is bombarding us from every direction with constant lies—usually based on fear. It’s tough to create a fulfilling life in an environment where everyone around you worships money and judges every endeavor by how much of a profit it generates.
Yet, that’s what artists do, creating their work while at the same time reflecting a mirror on the foibles of the cultural condition around them. David Ippolito, the central character in this play, is an independent singer-songwriter who has gained a huge following as a troubadour in Central Park for the past 20 years. David is the real deal and this is his inspiring story. I have known David for a decade, watched his work develop and witnessed his struggles in trying to live an honest, artistic life.
There are two key lines in the play. The first is “Keep Hope Alive” and the second is the title, “Possibility Junkie.” Both came from the late Sid Bernstein, the man who brought the Beatles and many other bands to America in the 1960s. Bernstein found David singing in Central Park 15 years ago and they became friends. Sid died at age 95 last August 21.
In the play, Bernstein’s character is “Burn,” an elderly wise man played beautifully by Rob Barnes, a veteran Broadway actor and singer. Barnes was in the original Broadway casts of Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar. Having known Sid as well, I can attest that Barnes carries much of Bernstein in his character.
Rob Barnes and David Ippolito
The plot of Possibility Junkie centers around a right wing commentator on FAX News (loosely based on FOX, though it’s hard me to even call it “news.”) David does a song about him in Central Park and a fan records it on video. The video is put on YouTube and goes viral. The FAX commentator, Sean Kilroy (played by Joel H. Jones), gets angry and tries to do David in.
He uses his stunningly attractive assistant, Ainsley Louis (played by Jillian Louis), to spy on David and secretly video tape him, trying to get any kind dirt possible. David falls for Ainsley, a walking, singing bombshell, only to find himself and his friend, Burn, betrayed by her ambitions to get her own TV show.
Jillian Louis and Joel H. Jones
Possibility Junkie is an inspiring musical with songs not just written for this play, but written for over 20 years from the heart by David Ippolito. It all melds together in what I don’t lightly call Ippolito’s masterpiece. His “The Last Protest Song” toward the end brought tears to my eyes. With this play, David has now transitioned from being a talented singer and songwriter to being a creator of musical theatre. This is an ideal new format for him.
The expert hand of Gretchen Cryer is also evident in this production. An earlier theatrical presentation by David was too loose and talky, with David ad-libbing each night. That’s gone in this production, no doubt the work of Cryer in co-writing the book and directing the production. Cryer, the mother of television actor Jon Cryer, co-wrote the classic, I’m Getting My Act Together and Taking It On The Road. She has David acting loose, but he’s far more precise in his presentation this time.
In fact, there wasn’t a weak player in this excellent cast of actors and singers—featuring in addition to Ippolito and Barnes—J.C. Hall (a terrific hip-hop artist), Joel H. Jones, Jillian Louis, Teresa Reynolds and Vanessa Theus. Music direction was by Mike Murray, with some musicians—especially mandolin player Chris Tedesco—joining the cast dancing on the main stage while playing.
Heather Wolensky’s set design was also unique, featuring actual moving image backdrops of where David plays in Central Park. The various video segments plugged into the play seamlessly. It was “virtual set” technology well used in the story. The choreography by David Eggers is also excellent.
A story that Sid Bernstein once told me came ringing back as I watched Possibility Junkie in a packed house on its opening night. Noting that he had found the Beatles in Liverpool in the 1960s, Sid said he hoped one day he could give Liverpool a gift from America. That gift, he told me, would be David Ippolito. “David’s got it,” Sid said, “and they would love him over there.”
Sid never got the chance to promote David in Liverpool, but the man—who also brought The Rolling Stones, Herman's Hermits, The Moody Blues and The Kinks to the United States—had an insanely good eye for talent.
Possibility Junkie runs through Oct. 20 at the Theatre for the New City at 155 First Ave in New York City.
David Ippolito with the real Sid Bernstein
Photo by Frank Beacham