In 1999, Mike Schlitt, an actor/director/writer thoroughly in the grip of midlife crisis, was asked by a shady producer to direct a sexed-up, Spice Girls-themed production of Neil Simon's totally unsexy musical, They're Playing Our Song, on a three-city tour across India. Schlitt, looking for an escape from his marketing job, agreed, hoping to turn the experience into a documentary film. Both the production and the film were disastrous failures, so Schlitt has, 10 years on, scraped up the debris into a solo comedy performance.
The result, which runs through June 13 at Portland Center Stage, falls somewhere between a really good barroom yarn and a really bad therapy session. Schlitt is engaging as a performer but not likable as a character—he comes across as a conceited jerk, whining about his job, his age and his inability to break into the movie business. Based on his own descriptions, and backed up by the video evidence he presents, he's a complete mess under pressure. Watching him obliviously make a fool of himself on Indian national television, calling the entire nation "weak" and comparing the broken arm in a cast on his show's tour poster to India's caste system, has the same appeal as a Michael Scott tirade on The Office: It's a fascinating train wreck and occasionally very funny, but not an enjoyable experience.
Schlitt's adventure, like most true stories, lacks a neat ending. After the tour he goes back to his job and spends the next several years trying to make sense of the trip and the piles of videotapes he brought home, before realizing that, even if his film project was doomed (caught up in the terrible production's inexplicable popularity, he failed to keep the camera rolling), life isn't so bad. This doesn't really make for satisfying theater, but the strangeness of Schlitt's story keeps the show afloat. Trapped inside luxury hotels and forced to give an unending series of interviews with fawning media while his actors gradually lost their minds, the whole affair is too weird to be fiction. If only it were told in a bar instead of the Armory, it might be fun.
Gerding Theater, 128 NW 11th Ave., 445-3700. 7:30 pm Tuesdays-Saturdays, 2 pm Sundays, alternating 2 pm Saturday and 7:30 pm Sunday performances. Closes June 13. $22-$45.