‘Only Child’ Review: A Magnetic Performer Without a Story to Match

As a writer, Watts is enamored with metaphor, but his analogies get muddled. Within the first few minutes, he has already described the process of putting together this theatrical memoir, from scraps of poetry and raps and recollections, as unearthing skeletons in the closet, unpacking boxes in an attic and grabbing jars of jam from the pantry shelves.

And where is he headed? Despite its title, the show never effectively captures how being an only child affected his development. He describes his admiration for his mother, but she isn’t presented as a fully developed figure. And he glosses over his relationship with his father, until, more than halfway in, he drops the briefest mention of abusive behavior, and refers to the rage he holds onto, before moving along.

In casting about for shape to his story, Watts reaches for politics. He uses his college sexual experiences to talk about consent, but his attempt to hold himself accountable for a questionable drunken hookup — plus his regret at the loss of an idol in Bill Cosby after the comedian’s sexual assault allegations — come across as tone-deaf.

Similarly, a section in which he shares his anger as a Black man in America, name-dropping many of the unjustly killed Black people in recent years, reads like a grasp for political relevance more than a personal tie-in. Because Watts fails to unpack — or even really mention — his relationship to race until this roll call of victims, it feels incidental, despite how poignantly these tragedies may ring true for him in real life.

Late in the 90-minute show, Watts dons tap shoes to dance out a drunken spiral, a physical representation of his tumble down to rock bottom. He trips across the stage with his upper body slumped over, arms carelessly flailing in a pantomime of a man stumbling after one too many beers.

It’s a cleverly conceived performance, shifting from spoken word to tap, another medium in which Watts tells us he found comfort. But Watts struggles to transition back to his story, making the routine feel more like a musical interlude set to the sounds of Bob Marley.

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