If T-Swift has taught us anything, it’s not to cross an ex — especially if that ex is an artist. Apparently, Nick Jonczak’s past boyfriends missed the memo. Inspired by a tumultuous breakup, Jonczak created "Dopplebanger," a one-man contemplation on attraction and identity in a part-cabaret, part-tarot-reading performance.
So before jumping for the traditional show or musical for the city’s ten-day Philadelphia Theatre Week, don’t forget about the true roots of the Philly theatre scene — a gay, experimental show. "Dopplebanger" runs from February 9-11 at Mascher Space Cooperative. Tickets cost $15 in advance and $20 at the door.
“The play is about why so many white gay men date other men that look just like them. It is a very common thing that I have seen in the community,” Jonczak chuckled of "Dopplebanger," a term used in the LGBT+ community for a gay couple who look alike. “But I think the question that I ask myself all the time when I'm looking at other men who I find attractive is ‘do I want to be them or do I want to be with them? What is this quality about them that I'm so attracted to? Is it something that I want for myself or is it something that I'd like to be around?’”
"Dopplebanger" premiered at the Fringe Arts Festival in 2017, where Jonczak was surprised by the “diversity of the audience, by the diversity of people who found something in it for themselves.” Out of the people who praised the show, an older, gay man stood out for the the creator and solo performer.
“[He] kept saying ‘thank you this was so helpful … thank you.’ He just kept saying ‘thank you’ and the word ‘help’ again and again, which is really powerful,” Jonczak relayed. “These are men who lived through the AIDS epidemic and watched their friends die, and that was really heartening for me that there's something that I can make that can mean something to them.”
But while "Dopplebanger" may bring up old flames as well as men Jonczak just found attractive in a series of five vignettes, according to the writer, the show is neither vindictive nor one-note.
“The show doesn't really cast me in a positive light necessarily,” said the physical theatre artist who lives in Fishtown. “Where are the moments when I felt so sure about something and looking back at them I can say ‘oh no that was not the right choice to make at all?’”
Jonczak went on to say that he changed the names to “protect the guilty.” As for any awkward encounters with a past lovers who could see the show, Jonczak said that aside from one story, the depicted relationships happened in Washington D.C. where he went for his undergraduate.
While Jonczak was careful not “spoil anything,” over the course of the show, the actor transforms into the favorite body parts of the men who impacted his life. Trippy, right?
Receiving his MFA in devising from Pig Iron Theater, Jonczak typically thinks in visuals and movement, but for this story, he thought more “heavily in words and that was kind of terrifying.” But staying true to his artistry, the show still incorporates multimedia. As of now, the one-man act uses video, but as Jonczak explained, his play constantly undergoes edits so “anything can happen between now and next week.”
One visual component that will undoubtedly remain for curtain call is the tarot cards. Jonczak has been reading tarot for the past 17-years, and even did readings at a few audience members’ homes after the Fringe Festival.
Aligned with the theme of envy, Jonczak bought his first tarot deck when he was 13-years-old to be like “the most masculine influence in his life” — his sister who did readings.
Walking into the theater, audience members can choose their own tarot card. Some will have the opportunity to come up on stage for a live reading with their cards projected on a screen.
“It's something that I return to all the time … to try to figure out you know more about myself or something that I offer to other people for them to learn more about themselves,” said Jonczak of tarot.
The interactive element to the show is just another way that Jonczak tries to create a sense of vulnerability within a safe space.
“This is a chance to feel vulnerable in this space with me and to feel safe in that vulnerability,” explained Jonczak. “…For me ‘safe space’ doesn't mean that you don't ever feel uncomfortable or you don't ever feel challenged. It simply means that when you feel vulnerable or when you feel challenged, you feel supported to encounter that challenge or that vulnerability.”
When asked what separates this show from the 75+ events during Philadelphia Theater Week, Joczak responded: “I think you'll be hard pressed to find another show that offers that kind of radical vulnerability or permeability that I'm striving for in this.”