Randy Ross’ Chronic Single’s Handbook follows his decision to travel around the world on a self-exploratory journey to find inner peace and figure out why he can’t hold down a girlfriend – like Eat Pray Love, but with more hookers. Though the show offers a bawdy, male perspective on the idea of the journey of self-discovery, in the end this show only begins to scratch the surface of its material’s potential.
Having been laid off and single for some time, Ross decides to use his severance package to go to Greece, Thailand, Cambodia, and South Africa to figure out his life and relationships with women. What follows is a string of experiences with sex workers that don’t tell us much about Ross’ feelings towards women, though we do learn that paying for sex feels kind of sleazy. Interspersed with these tales are a handful of stories from Ross’ spreadsheet of unsuccessful relationships (the existence of the spreadsheet is probably supposed to be a joke, but Ross’ tone is pretty serious when he first brings it up), including the girl who dumps him after he takes it a little too far during their experiment with dom/sub roleplay.
Despite this show’s supposed examination of Ross’ insecurities and anxieties, there’s not much actual introspection. Ross’s reliance on regular visits to his therapist is a regular motif throughout, adding something of a Woody Allen angle to Handbook, but the only real psychological breakthroughs come in the form of Ross realizing that he’s attracted to crazy and that he has commitment issues, which don’t seem like epiphanies unique to his experience. The ultimate lesson from this show – that in any relationship there are certain things you just have to accept about your partner and no relationship is a perfect, zero-effort-required affair – seems obvious as a result. To come up with something unique for Ross, and this show, there might need to be a little more digging.
I also spent some time during this show thinking about how Ross’ attitude betrays inherent sexism: there’s something problematic with the line “her exposed bra strap is like a ribbon – a prize for the right guy,” that is more a little off-putting. The accounts of the experiences with hookers approach a TMI amount of detail (these sections come across as pretty honest, but “pubic hair” is a phrase that tends not to work on stage in a serious context). Ross’ emotional development comes to a head when he learns that the woman he’s picked up in South Africa is also expecting payment, and while he doesn’t have sex with her, he pays her anyway since he feels bad for her. This seems to suggest that he realizes this woman has been left behind by the sociopolitical systems in place, but maintains a rather patronizing perspective on the situation. Moreover, “not sleeping with a hooker” doesn’t seem like much of an accomplishment, even though as the third of three sex-worker stories, it’s clearly supposed to be the moment of realization. Ross’ need to mention that her skin was “at least 80% cocoa,” also raises questions that should be apparent.
The last section of the show, dealing with Ross’ unconscious searching for reasons to break it off with his latest girlfriend, seems unsuited for a show called The Chronic Single’s Handbook (being chronically single and afraid of commitment seem to be tied together, but Ross doesn’t seem to come to this conclusion, at least explicitly).
For all the issues with the material, Ross is an engaging performer. His physicality – especially when impersonating a travel store employee who stares at his little finger while displaying far too much knowledge of Thai massage parlours – is fun to watch, and his vocal control is impressive, particularly at the more sensual parts of the storytelling.
While the text of The Chronic Single’s Handbook leaves something to be desired (the show is based on Ross’ novel God Bless Cambodia, so there should be plenty more material to mine), Ross shows that he is certainly capable of delivering a performance that leaves you hoping that he figures it out.
The Chronic Single’s Handbook
Written and Performed by Randy Ross
At ODD Box (Venue 4)
Running Time: 60 minutes
Friday 16 June 9:30pm
Sunday 18 June 3:30pm