One Man. One Brain. Two Voices.
Your brain can be your biggest critic or your biggest fan, the voice pushing you across the finish line or the giant obstacle preventing you from moving forward. Pixar’s “Inside Out” introduced us to 10-year old Riley and the voices in her head. These voices were the different aspects of her personality, and while they sometimes disagreed with each other, they accurately conveyed how Riley was feeling at any point in time. “Safe in My Own Head: A New Musical” explores what happens when the brain and the person are separate entities, they’re definitely not great friends, and they both tend to curse a lot. Basically, leave the kids home for this one.
From the second Man (Brendan Duffy) steps onstage to remind the audience to turn off their cell phones, we hear his Brain (Natalie Moretti) deliver a stream of critiques, nagging, and teasing. Their back-and-forth bickering continues throughout Man’s story. He’s stuck in a dead-end office job that he doesn’t care about with co-workers Brain dreams of killing, even as they deliver a very off-key rendition of “Happy Birthday.” Man’s passion is acting, but not only does Brain not have faith in his talents, casting directors also aren’t crazy about him. Add a rocky love life that explains the lesser known challenges gay men face and it’s understandable why Man may be looking for a little break from nosey, analytical Brain.
It’s no secret that two-person musicals are a huge undertaking. Two-person musicals where only one person is onstage the entire time, and it happens to be the person who wrote the thing? I admittedly had to silence my own brain’s sarcastic commentary before show time. There are so many ways a musical like this could go awry, but it doesn’t, mainly because of how talented and instantly likeable Duffy is. The songs are poppy and should feel like a warm hug to anyone who has seen a musical. There was no attempt to reinvent the wheel here, and that’s actually much appreciated. So much of the story and humor fall into darker territory (at different points in the show, Man threatens to go back on meds and Brain threatens to turn the depression back on) that the familiar, bouncy tunes offer a fun contrast.
With just her voice, Moretti delivers a performance that is at times hilarious, surprising, and sincere without being saccharine. A highlight is when Man is going through the pains of trying to write his own musical (one of many meta moments), and Brain breaks into each song he has been subconsciously stealing.
As of this review, you have two more chances to see “Safe in My Own Head” at iO. I definitely recommend checking it out July 14th or 21st at 8 pm, and if your brain tells you to enjoy a drink or a brownie sundae during the show, are you really going to argue?