Swapping Stories 

Jukebox Stories replicates the amiable informality of a gathering of old friends.

If terrifyingly prolific playwright Prince Gomovilas (Big Hunk o' Burnin' Love, Mysterious Skin, The Fabulous Adventures of Captain Queer) thinks he can bribe a critic with a lousy single Handi-Snack serving of cheap pudding, he's wrong. However, his storytelling is another thing altogether, especially paired with the quirkily smart songs of soft-voiced Brandon Patton and a life-and-limb-threatening set strewn with clothes, half-full liquor bottles, mismatched couches, and an overturned chair. Welcome to Jukebox Stories at Impact, two guys sitting around in their living room sharing stories and tunes with titles like "Don't Do Drugs (on a School Night)," "Fat and Strange," and "What My Sister's Breast Implants Have to Do with Golf."

Both men used to live here, and both eventually took off — the diminutive Gomovilas to Los Angeles, the floppy-haired Patton to Brooklyn. When they visit each other, they have other people over and sit in their respective living rooms singing and telling stories. Now they're trying to capture that vibe onstage, and for once the basement of LaVal's Subterranean actually enhances and supports the theatrical experience instead of hindering it.

Although there is a core of pieces the duo will perform each night, every show will be different because they're adding others, randomized by an extremely high-tech computing machine running algorithms invented by underpaid grad students. Or, if you prefer, two boxes filled with the names of the pieces written on paper crumpled up into balls. Audience members are tapped to choose the papers, which are then recrumpled and tossed into a laundry basket. To make things more interesting, each audience member also has a Bingo card with the names of the different pieces, which is how your critic ended up with her tublet of pudding (actually, I won a blank CD-ROM, but I traded with another winner). It's good-naturedly gimmicky and adds to the festive informality of the show. Any audience members who are friends of the performers might also find themselves onstage to be interrogated about mutual friends.

Gomovilas roams around the small stage, picking his way over to his laptop to read out a blog entry, digging out a hard copy of a piece of short fiction from underneath a tossed shirt, finding the various props needed to fulfill the requirements of the "action cards" that lurk in the "stories" box. The night I went, the action card dictated that Gomovilas had to change clothes while telling a story, but he was uneasy about it because someone was videotaping. So Patton pulled another layer of clothing onto his friend as Gomovilas told a story about why he loves the chain Hot Topic ("I'm getting turned on," he admitted shyly at one point as the kneeling Patton zipped him into a pair of pants), but who knows what else is in the box, waiting to happen? Patton, meanwhile, makes fun of Broadway musicals ("A young dancer walks onto the stage ...") and tries not to trip over all the junk on the floor as he shares songs like "Help Me Get Paid to Talk About Myself" and the sweetly screwy "Mixed-Up Modern Family" ("I also know too much about my grandmother's vagina").

The selections may be random, but there is still an organic cohesion, a satisfying blend of humor and poignancy. The pieces are political, personal, funny, biting, sad, raunchy, and above all honest. Whether it's a fictional letter to a college admissions committee or Gomovilas' story of how a play he wrote for a group of students at an exclusive school brought down the wrath of wealthy parents who demanded that he rewrite the ending so that a corporation saves the day, it really feels like being invited into these men's lives. And because each night's selection will be different, it's an experience that invites repetition. From meeting Violet, Gomovilas' devil-may-care butch-lesbian fashion model who accidentally drops in at the Republican National Convention to the unnamed object of Patton's "She Speaks French" ("If we have kids, we'll raise them bilingual, because if we just raised them in French I couldn't talk to my kids"), this endearing world premiere won't need to bribe you to stay, relax, and enjoy yourself.

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