On Borrowed Time
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On Borrowed Time

Ted Merwin’s column appears monthly. He writes about theater for the paper and is the author of the award-winning “Pastrami on Rye,” a history of the Jewish deli.

Money is such a taboo subject that discussing our sex lives is more comfortable for many of us than revealing our income. For playwright Ben Rimalower, who performs his own one-man show, “Bad With Money,” spending money is a way to avoid dealing with debilitating emotional problems. Jenna Scherer of Time Out New York raves that Rimalower “exorcises his financial demons” in a “purgative hour-long monologue in which he entertainingly (and excruciatingly) itemizes his monetary sins.” The show continues through the end of February in the West Village.

Rimalower is best known for his first one-man show, “Patti Issues,” which chronicled his obsession with Broadway star Patti LuPone. Rimalower, who watched his parents’ marriage dissolve because of his father’s latent homosexuality, has struggled throughout his life to maintain a healthy sense of self-esteem. While “Patti Issues” was originally conceived to embrace his financial problems — an earlier title was “Patti, Daddy, Money” — Rimalower ultimately decided to save the final category for another show, which became “Bad With Money.”

Directed by Aaron Mark, the play begins with Rimalower singing John Meyer’s “I’d Like to Hate Myself in the Morning” as Judy Garland, who performed the song in 1969 as her debts mounted sky-high toward the end of her troubled life. Rimalower, who is openly gay, then describes becoming a male prostitute while at Berkeley, and then, after college, stealing from his boss at the record company where he worked. The actor recalls how he engaged in a ceaseless cycle of borrowing just to keep his creditors at bay.

“My parents were raised to work hard, make money and buy a Cadillac,” Rimalower told The Jewish Week. “Such expectations [messed up] a lot of people in my generation. We have expensive tastes but we can’t color in between the lines.” While many of his non-Jewish friends have a “struggling artist thing,” for a Jewish actor, not having money is shameful — it is the “ultimate rejection of, or failure to live up to, the Jewish American ideal.”

Rimalower admitted that he found it easier to stop abusing alcohol and drugs than to stop shopping excessively. “You can quit gambling or drinking,” he reflected. “But spending is like eating” — you can’t simply cease doing it, even if you’ve developed a disorder. “You need to develop a healthy, balanced relationship to it. It’s important for me to face my problem so that other people aren’t collateral damage.”

“Bad With Money” runs at The Duplex, 61 Christopher St. Weekly performances are on Wednesday nights at 7 p.m. through the end of January, and on Thursday nights at 9:30 p.m. in February. For tickets, $25, call (800) 316-8559 or visit purplepass.com/badwithmoney. There is a two-drink minimum per person, and patrons must be at least 21.

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