Sunday, February 9, 2003

Alteractive opens with 'Mad' man spewing opinions

By Jackie Demaline
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Joe Raiola has a bone to pick with God.

Alteractive series opener Almost Obscene at Playhouse in the Park will find the monologist and Mad Magazine senior editor railing against the Almighty, although he's not too happy about politics, war, intolerance, civil liberties and censorship, either. Raiola will discuss all of the above at 7 p.m. Monday in the Playhouse's Rosenthal Plaza.

"There's not a man alive more looking forward to coming to Cincinnati than me," Raiola says gleefully.

Almost Obscene debuted at the NYC International Fringe Festival last year, and the New York Times called it "a ruefully amusing lament for the ineradicable hypocrisy of humanity... his honesty is admirable if not uplifting."

"The show deals with the First Amendment," Raiola explains by phone from Mad, where he is easing into his workday.

This is his first out-of-town gig "which is why I'm so glad I'm doing it in Cincinnati and Ohio - which is not a state with a great record on First Amendment issues."

Raiola had been a solo performer in New York for 10 years "playing to full houses and not making any money" when - eureka! - "A librarian called me looking for a speaker from Mad Magazine."

He grabbed the gig "and started marketing a show that didn't exist" to librarians and conferences. Calls started coming in from around the country and The Joy of Censorship was born.

"I found it was a subject I was deeply passionate about." But. "I began to censor myself in my own censorship show!" Raiola was appalled but knew he couldn't push the envelope any further on the lecture circuit.

So he returned to theater, decided to "pretend that I could do and say whatever I want" and came up with Almost Obscene.

"It struck a nerve, That was so great."

Do not misunderstand. He questions extreme views on both ends of the political spectrum. "I'm an equal opportunity offender," he quips.

Almost Obscene finds Raiola's serrating humor aimed at everyone "who is terrified of a view opposing theirs. If we had an instrument to measure fear-level in this country - it's gotta be off the charts."

To Raiola, the greatest obscenity is war. He goes off on a recent speech by President Bush. "The wrongest thing he said is that `America is a peaceful nation.' We've never been a peaceful nation, since Manifest Destiny.

"The heart of the matter is that we have a violent god and this is how we honor him."

It should be noted that Raiola confesses to spending three of his formative years in Catholic school and "Jesus Christ totally unnerved and frightened me."

For now, Raiola plots how to lure political and religious conservatives to the Playhouse Monday night. "I hope the talk radio guys will have me on," he says.

"This isn't a show for liberals, I'm not interested in reaching an audience predisposed to my way of thinking. I want to reach the people who need to see me."

Doors open 6:30 p.m. Tickets $10, $6 students. For reservations and information call the Playhouse box office at 421-3888.

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