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Photo: Alan Moyle Review
Had the title “A Beautiful Mind” not already been taken, it might have proved the perfect moniker for “Douglas,” Australian comic Hannah Gadbsy’s extraordinary solo show, now at the Daryl Roth Theatre. (The title is a reference to both one of her beloved dogs and an unusual part of the female body.) But as she proved to the world last year in her groundbreaking outing “Nanette,” (seen worldwide on Netflix), what’s in a name is far less important than what emerges from this consistently brave and hilarious performer’s mouth.

At the beginning of this nearly two-hour set, Gadsby not only lets the audience know that “Douglas” will be a less dark, slightly more conventional piece than “Nanette,” which, among other things, dealt with her extreme discomfort in doing stand-up comedy and some very dark personal trauma. In fact. she essentially outlines the structure of her show in the first ten minutes, so as not to confound our expectations. And, yet, she still does; you’re probably not going to be prepared to laugh so loudly or think so deeply.

On the former front, without giving too much away, be warned that you’ll probably never look at these things in the same way ever again: “Where’s Waldo,” golf, “The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” Louis C.K, and Renaissance art (the latter, helpfully augmented by a brilliant slide show fitting from a woman who has a bachelor’s degree in art history).

These sections are observational comedy of the highest order, and, for the most part, also dovetail beautifully with one of the overarching themes of Gadsby’s show: how the patriarchy has completely dominated the world for centuries, not only ignoring the realities of women’s lives, but anointing themselves the world’s decision-makers. (“Men have named all the things,” she keeps repeating until it truly sinks in!)

Indeed, one of Gadsby’s strengths is that she is not afraid to make her audience uncomfortable – she also shoots some well-aimed arrows at America’s belief in its cultural imperialism – but she consistently tempers that instinct by stressing that we shouldn’t “invest” in certain jokes or take each and every one personally. The punches still land; they just don’t hurt as much.

More importantly, “Douglas” also plays to Gadsby’s greatest asset: her willingness to reveal something truly personal – in this case, her later-in-life diagnosis of autism and how it affects her daily life and emotional relationships. For Gadsby, this section is a “teachable moment” of sorts, but it’s primarily a flat-out statement of fact, seeking neither sympathy nor shock from us. It can be a lot to take in (at least, for some people), which is why she concludes the show (after this revelation) with perhaps the funniest mini-set I’ve seen in years.

So, fear not: While “Douglas” is, indeed, a different piece than “Nanette” (which she admits caused a lot of haters to hate), it’s anything but a dog of a show. Instead, I would call it must-see theater!
By Brian Scott Lipton

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Hannah Gadsby

Open/Close Dates
Opening 7/23/2019
Closing 9/14/2019

Theatre Info
Daryl Roth Theatre
20 Union Square
New York, NY 10003