SYN Nation

Review: Longing Lasts Longer by Penny Arcade


On the night that I went to see Longing Lasts Longer there was a woman standing near the entrance line who looked just its performer, Penny Arcade. For a crazy moment I thought it was actually her. Then I realised it must have just been one of her diehard fans. Surely Penny wouldn’t be out in the queue 10 minutes before her own show. That’s not a thing that performers do.

At least, that’s usually not something that performers do. When I sat down inside that Melba Speigeltent it became immediately clear that it really was her. She was walking up and down the aisle, ranting and spit-balling observations into microphone about this whole coming to the theatre thing. “Is this part of the show? Is it not?” she asks, and truly doesn’t seem to be all that sure. This is not an easy show to categorise, nor is there really that much point in trying to categorise it.

Although there’s a clear difference between the “official” rehearsed parts of the show and her rustic improvisations, all of it is coming from a sincere place of some description. There are things that make her angry, that send her on a no-nonsense rampage through the sociological landscape of 2016, but she also loves and appreciates her audience and her entire production team, and takes the time to properly thank and acknowledge both after the show.

It all begins though as a charmingly off-centre social critique of what New York City has become, and a lament for what it once was. Just when you’re worried that she’s expecting her show to word unchanged an ocean away from where she first developed it, she proves she hasn’t forgotten what continent she’s on and offers up many on-point local references and a few other well-judged changes. Just when I feared she was going to repeat the same complains about one city for the rest of the hour, she started complaining about the world at large, about ubiquitous modern advertising, the glorification of youth, the disregard of history, and, very controversially, the introduction of trigger warnings at universities, but she shows she is more aware of how she sounds than you might think. She knows many people dismiss her outrage over the modern age as just typical senile nostalgia. She insists that what she’s experiencing is in fact not nostalgia but longing, and “longing lasts longer.” She’s heard people tell her that what she is noticing is simply the world changing and evolving just as it has always been doing. Her response, like those of all the best comedians, is to mix the absurd and the ridiculous with just a little bit of left-field logic so that, if only for a moment, you entertain a thought that surely even she realises is taking things too far, but nonetheless it is how she feels, regardless of anyone’s attempts to talk her out of it.

Hopefully, even as she lampoons political correctness, social progress and successful achievements in human rights, you will know not to take all of it too seriously. too literally or out of context. What certainly helps is the exaggerated pantomime in her delivery and the frequent cheerful dance interludes featuring excerpts from dozens of famous music pieces that are just short enough not to incur royalties. If that isn’t enough, her final message surely will be. Her last words to her audience stand a fair distance apart from the sobering straight-talking that forms the bulk of the piece. She’s still far from sentimental, but suddenly with a lot less nihilism. She urges all of us to search for our happiness inside ourselves, and not in other people.

Penny Arcade is a realist, not a sadist. Her stage persona in Longing Lasts Longer might be rough, uncompromising and even a little jaded, but that person standing outside the ticket line is clearly a lovely human being, just one who’s capable of playing devil’s advocate for the amusement and intellectual stimulation of her audience.

Review written by Christian Tsoutsouvas

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