Strong Coffee

Eric Bogosian promises to wake St. Louis up with his new show

Feb 21, 2001 at 4:00 am
It's not the kind of review that every performer would cherish, but if you visit Eric Bogosian's Web site (, you'll find yourself just a click away from the following bit of audience reaction from a Texas paper: "The Nov. 5 Paramount Theatre presentation of Eric Bogosian was pure unadulterated filth. As season ticket holders for many years we trusted the directors and staff of the theater in their selection of performers and innocently attended. We remained throughout most of the performance out of courtesy and the hope it would soon be ended. Eric Bogosian insulted every sensibility and moral ethic we hold dear." The cause of the customer's outrage remains unrepentant: "People are so dependable when they're shocked," Bogosian jokes. "It would be easy if that's all I had to deal with. That's not my fear. My fear is someone saying they've seen it before or I'm not going far enough."

Bogosian has been taking things to extremes onstage for more than 20 years. Though audiences out of the off-Broadway/SoHo loop are more likely to recognize him from the film version of his play Talk Radio or as Steven Seagal's jacked-up nemesis in Under Siege 2, Bogosian is at his best in one-man shows like Drinking in America and Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll, where he rolls through a collection of intense, dangerously manic characters, ranging from coke-fueled Hollywood producers to homeless beggars.

In recent years, Bogosian has allowed his gift for interior monologues and satiric observation to speak though other voices in plays like subUrbia and the just-published novel Mall, leading to speculation that his own performing days were behind him. When Bogosian makes his first St. Louis appearance this week, in Wake Up and Smell the Coffee, all rumors of retirement can be put to rest. "I guess there's what you plan and then there's what actually happens," he explains. "I just continued to make up new stuff, and eventually there was enough new stuff to have a new show. I was actually dragging my feet on it because to do a real sit-down run in New York is a lot of energy; it's a big commitment. My friends said the show was too good not to give a regular run."

Wake Up is a collection of monologues that includes Bogosian's observations on our obsession with celebrity and gossip and his own Warholian 15 minutes. "There are parts that are very specific about that," he says. "I mean, I'm in a very funny place: I've been very successful, I'm always busy and I've done things that are visible. A lot of people in my business would say, 'What's he complaining about?' On the other hand, I've seen a number of my peers become monster movie stars. There's a part of me that says, 'I don't want to do it, but I want to be jealous of it anyway.'

"What'll be exciting about coming to St. Louis is that I've never performed in St. Louis, so I am a genuine underground character. People do not know my stuff before I step out onstage, I can be sure of that. How do they know what they're going to see? They don't. Some of them think they do, but they don't."