This review of Ben Rimalower's Bad With Money at The Duplex Cabaret Theatre was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 5 (2015) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!
Bad With Money
Written & Performed by Ben Rimalower
Directed by Aaron Mark
The Duplex Cabaret Theatre
61 Christopher Street
New York, New York 10014
Reviewed 6/21/15 at 7:00 p.m.
Ben Rimalower opened the show singing that little ditty, "I'd Like To Hate Myself In The Morning," first performed by Judy Garland in the final stretch of her life. John Meyer wrote a memoir called Heartbreaker about his relationship with Garland, how when he met her, she was homeless, couch-surfing, desperate for the 200 bucks he could get her to sing at a piano bar, dependent on the kindness of strangers just for a glass of gin to calm the DTs (i.e. the shakes). Ben said, "I've always related to Judy Garland as a fellow alcoholic. Even before I acknowledged my own problem, before I came out - if you will - I identified with a sort of glamorized Rat Pack image of Judy throwing back a highball. I've been a Garland fan all my life, but what I learned reading Heartbreaker was that another enormous problem Judy faced was colossal, crippling debt. There is nothing glamorous about Judy's debilitating financial problems. I never wanted to identify with that aspect of Judy Garland. And yet here we are."
During this one-hour, one-man show, Ben candidly reveals his addiction to spending beyond his means and how that led him to betray friends, embezzle money, steal items from places where he worked, engage in prostitution, and eventually to committing grand larceny by charging over $10,000 on his boss's credit card. As he accurately described the pleasure-pain ratio associated with the addiction, he makes one "questionable decision at the cash register" but even though he doesn't have the money to pay the credit card bill, he still gets to keep the stuff he bought. Similarly, he might get a call from the salon when his check bounces, but his "hair is still cut." Instant gratification without consequences, thanks to those who have enabled his addiction over the years. First on the list of enablers are his parents who continued to bail him out, and second are his boss and business partners who didn't press charges against him. He also got lucky by not getting arrested as a prostitute or for smoking and possessing crystal meth. The result has been that Ben Rimalower is still struggling with his addiction. As he says near the end of his monologue, "I'm just vomiting up war stories. I'm standing here telling you this story but I'm still stuck in it."
More tragedy than comedy, Ben reveals that as kid, his grandparents learned they could keep him quiet by simply buying him things. When he spent the $300.00 his friends gave him for the rental of the limousine for their prom, his parents bailed him out. They suggested he get a job, which he did, at a record company, but when his employer mentioned he could take a CD or two gratis, he ended up filling his car multiple times over with CDs he stole from the company's storage room. He recognized his family was not poor but "even though they were able to squeak through the gates, they couldn't keep up." He "never had enough money" to spend the way his friends did at the mall. He attended the University of California at Berkeley in 1994 and accepted a credit card with an $800.00 limit so he "could build his credit score." His plan was to buy a $37.00 dinner to celebrate getting the card plus a $13.00 CD and to then pay it off by the end of the billing cycle. Within months, he maxed out the card and when they raised his credit limit to $1,000.00, he used that too. When his parents found out, they paid that bill as well. In Junior year, he found out that his friend Tim's parents would pay for a trip to Europe for him and his boyfriend, so he proceeded to climb on top of Tim to bring their friendship to the next level. The audience laughed and Ben said that Tim "thought it was funny too." Ben always is keeping an eye out for "a good story" he can "one day include in his one woman show."
Without money, Ben next considered prostitution. He called an Escort Agency and wanted to make sure they were not legitimate, so he asked whether they would expect him to sleep with the clients. They responded, "prostitution is illegal in the state of California but if our clients want to walk around the block, we expect our employees to walk them around the block." However, when he went in for an interview, they told him they wanted more of a "frat boy" look than a "drama major" look so he decided to go out on the street and simply be a prostitute without going through an escort service. He went out to Polk Street in San Francisco but soon realized he had overestimated the price he could get for what he was willing to give. He expected to be paid $100.00 for a hand job while johns were willing to pay him $40.00 for anal sex. He met an eclectic mix of people during his time as a hustler. A rich guy gave him $300.00 plus $50,00 for transportation just to help him out. Another gave him $40.00 for oral sex and two Japanese dudes invited him to participate in a party that lasted almost two days. Ben told everyone he was a prostitute but even when doing so, he always felt he still had a secret, namely, that it was true since many would have questioned whether he had the build or looks to be an effective and successful rent-boy.
After the two-day sex and drug party, Ben Rimalower decided to go straight and become a nice Jewish boy again but he still had no money so he decided to cash in the IBM stock he got as gifts at his bris. It came to $10,000.00, which he deposited into a fund with Charles Schwab. Within a short time, he not only used the entire $10,000.00 but somehow ended up owing Charles Schwab an additional $1,200.00. After graduation, he finally got a job paying $650.00 a week but after using the money to pay back debts, get hundred dollar haircuts, buy Broadway theater tickets and dinners, he always ended up with no money by the end of each week. His boss had given him a credit card to buy items he was instructed to purchase but he started using it for dinner, Kiss Me, Kate tickets and splurges at Banana Republic. He rationalized it at first by saying that he could explain away the first wrong charge by saying that both his credit card and employer's card were blue and that he made a mistake, but that excuse was completely blown away after Ben charged over $10,000.00 on the card. When caught, the boss didn't press charges and simply fired him.
When Ben and two friends produced Joy at the Actor's Playhouse, he started embezzling small amounts of money from the fund of investors returning some of it but ultimately taking $1,500.00. This destroyed the trust of his friends and hurt their chances of attracting other investors. His friends interpreted his actions as his giving them "a big fuck you" which made them "sad rather than angry." It didn't stop there. He bounced a check when producing his own cabaret show and in 2010, he got a $5,000.00 bonus only to find that weeks later he had minus $600.00 in his checking account and he still hadn't paid his rent or his monthly bills. Recognizing nothing would get better until he was sober, he contacted his parents about entering rehab at Hazelton. Insurance brought the $28,000.00 bill down to $17,000.00, which his parents paid. They addressed his alcohol and drug addictions but not his problems with spending money. He eventually realized that even rehab was just another scheme, wherein he hoped to reinvent himself, which is not possible since there is no getting away from money. Alcohol and drugs are easy to stop in comparison but the underlying needs and addictions to "stuff" is something you can't abandon cold turkey. Even therapy hasn't helped him.
Ben eventually reveals he is not drinking anymore and that he is not stealing anymore. However, he put this show together in the hope of putting it all behind him but none of his big schemes to solve everything has worked. His whole life is still unmanageable and he recognizes that even if he won one hundred million dollars in a lottery, he'd spend it in a year and, if he started drinking again, it would be gone in six months. He finally confesses he "always saw himself as an emerging talent," but that what he really is "is a criminal lucky to have lived such a privileged life." He ends the show as if he is introducing himself at a Debtors Anonymous meeting, saying, "My name is Ben and I'm Bad With Money."
Bad With Money opened at The Duplex Cabaret Theatre on September 4, 2014. It was developed within the Theaterists Group for Writers at The Public Theater and was named The Advocate's #1 Solo Show of 2014. Ben Rimalower continues to perform this play around the world. It is not a particularly funny show because Ben has chosen to reveal some of the darkest and most embarrassing aspects of his private life. There is nothing funny about stealing, embezzling and betraying those who love and have trusted you. He shares his struggles with addiction in all its forms and doesn't hold back from telling the audience exactly how it was and how it is. But Ben never gives us any indication he is taking the steps necessary to deal with his problem. Has he destroyed all his credit cards? Has he told his friends and parents not to lend him any money, even if he asks? Has he cut his ATM cards in half so he has to withdraw money physically from his checking account? Has he limited the amount of money he withdraws? Is he keeping track of all his income and expenditures, placing himself on a short leash? We never hear any of those steps so we are left without an indication as to how his story will end. Will he one day get arrested for writing bad checks or for embezzling money in the future or will he finally get his act together? We just don't know but we do leave the show feeling he should have accepted responsibility for his actions many years ago. Ben Rimalower is just terrific in Bad With Money. He shares his soul with the audience and holds nothing back.
You can learn more about Ben Rimalower on his website at www.BenRimalower.com or by following him @benrimalower on Twitter. He is also on Facebook, Instragram, and YouTube.