BWW Review: Salty Brine Brings DEAN. MAYBE FRANK. MAYBE SAMMY. to Pangea
Stumbling onstage, Salty Brine was divinely off-kilter as the reincarnation of Dean Martin in DEAN. MAYBE FRANK. MAYBE SAMMY. at Pangea.
Newly returned from Vegas and looking worse for wear in the role, the performer was sporting bandages and a neck brace from a recent car crash, he later explained. For the latest in Brine's LIVING RECORD COLLECTION, in which he covers a full album in its entirety, he selected Radiohead's OK COMPUTER.
Despite channeling Rat Pack vibes in both his patter and his aesthetic, musically, he didn't stray far from Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke's Gen X nasal whine, with an added boost from Brine's trademark theatricality and a few snippets from Ol' Blue Eyes thrown in here and there.
Flubbing the lyrics to the night's opening number, "Airbag," as part of his act, he tossed out intentional groaners straight out of a Dean Martin CELEBRITY ROAST. ("My grandmother's 86, and she doesn't need glasses... She drinks right out of the bottle!")
However, many of the early canned one-liners didn't elicit groans so much as a collective shrug from the crowd, at one point leading Brine---starting to peel back the Dean Martin persona---to crack, "The jokes don't get any better, ladies and gents."
That may have been true, but, mercifully, they all but tapered off. Yet what seemed like another joke---about the difficulty of going home for the holidays---became the first honest thing out of his mouth.
In between numbers, Brine shared parallel stories of two women, first exploring how young Betty McDonald met Dean Martin during a trip with her father, married him two days later, and they lived not-so-happily ever after. Initially, in the Dean Martin role, Brine appeared to be doing a broad satire of men who drink too much, womanizers, and men who claim to own the moon. But Salty Brine actually has far more thoughtful things to say about the patriarchy's ability to worm its way into all of us, often misguidedly leading marginalized people like women and queer folks to try and take one another down a peg.
Because---mostly dropping the boozehound act and giving the audience classic Salty---Brine then compared McDonald's tale with another story of a woman he knew much better: who had five children and, in his eyes, a less-than-perfect marriage.
A regrettable encounter with his grandma during the holidays was unveiled in dribs and drabs, as if the full story were too difficult to reveal all at once. In response to a nasty comment she made about Jennifer Holliday, he "lost himself," to paraphrase Yorke, and went off on her before hightailing it to Vegas.
Even here, it's difficult to tell where Dean stops and Salty begins. But it sure felt real, and his unwillingness to let himself off the hook was both fascinating and painful to witness. Launching into "Karma Police," his regret was palpable as he repeatedly sang "I lost myself," turning inward as he belted, "Arrest this man." His punishment, it seems, is to live in this space between Christmas and New Year's, terminally unable to make a fresh start.
Brine was joined onstage by Alex Thrailkill, pulling double duty on piano and guitar, along with Ben Arons on drums and Peter Longofono on bass. All the while, he insisted the rest of his Rat Pack---rounded out by Frank "Chairman of the Board" Sinatra and Sammy "Smokey the Bear" Davis Jr.---were simply running late. But it's unclear until the show's final moments if they're coming, if they're still alive, or if they even exist at all.
If that seems like a lot of balls in the air, you don't know the half of it. There were repeated references to "little green men," a costume change into an Uncle Sam-adjacent ensemble and a moment in which Brine drank every patron's drink in sight.
Deciphering Brine's vision among the swirling madness at times seemed impossible, so much so that much of the music faded into the background, breaking through in fragments or hazy ideas, like the haunting line, "Breathe, keep breathing / I can't do this alone" from "Exit Music (For a Film)."
While the ideas he explores were sprawling, each one converged in the final act, rocketing toward one another, even as he repeatedly urged the room to "Slow down" with an ethereal rendition of "The Tourist" in a way that was nothing short of stunning.
It's the kind of show that likely needs to be experienced twice to get the full effect. But whether it's your first or fifth time watching Brine prepare to ride off into the proverbial sunset with Smokey and the Chairman, it's surely one helluva ride.
Salty Brine's DEAN. MAYBE FRANK. MAYBE SAMMY. has been extended through March 28 at Pangea. For tickets and information, visit pangeanyc.com.
Troy Frisby is an entertainment writer and digital news producer based in New York. Follow him on Twitter @troyfrisby.