General 8-8-2004

Daily Fringe: Jaime Kleiman

Jaime's now talking about "Whoppers," Kevin Kling's talking thing; "This Love Train is Unstoppable," and "23 Across." These join her review of "Death Penalty Puppetry" : Muppets, behaving badly, but with a Message.

“Whoppers,” by Kevin Kling

You love Kevin Kling. I love Kevin Kling. We all love Kevin Kling. Even with my
fancy schmancy press pass, I made sure I got to the Women’s Club an hour and a
half early to ensure that I would get a seat. With sixty pre-sold tickets and a
line snaking around the block, you should make sure you get there early, too.

If you’ve heard Kling on NPR, or saw his show last year, the structure of his act
won’t be a surprise. He’s just a man on a chair with a microphone and some
paper. What is surprising, however, is the fact that each and every time you hear
him, watch him, become enrapt with him, it’s as if you’re sitting two feet away
from one another. Kling has an amazing ability to connect with his audience while
laughing with (and at) himself.

This collection of stories revolves around the idea that “art is a lie that gets to the truth,” and while he claims some of the
stories are actually true (Boy Scouts and taxidermy?), that’s utterly beside the
point. Kling is a local gem and we’re lucky to have him.

“This Love Train is Unstoppable and I Am the Conductor,” by David Mondy

Dave Mondy’s paean to adolescence, Jesus, and pornography is, as noted on the
postcard, reminiscent of Dave Eggers’ style and tone (Eggers is a Pulitzer
Prize-nominated boy wonder and founder of the post-hip publishing house
McSweeney’s). This is to say, if you like your one man shows low-key, smart, and
intimate — sometimes embarrassingly so — “Love Train” is for you.

Mondy begins
his tale by describing a mysterious blemish found on his nether region, and goes on
to elucidate firsthand his obsession with God and Playboy magazine. Although Mondy
mostly tells and rarely shows, it somehow works. Even if you’re not into
confessional, solipsistic one-person plays, there’s something in here that most
people can relate to and laugh about. The specificity with which he has crafted his
show makes his experiences all that more universal. An excellent writer, Mondy has
good comic timing and a clear sense of character. Even when the show drags, we
root for him to make it out of naivete and adolescence and into something
altogether more constructive — like finishing that novel I’m sure he’s

“23 Across”

“23 Across” is a sincere effort by a talented cast to make a sentimental and unoriginal
play emotionally meaningful. Which isn’t hard to do, considering most people live
in fear of their loved ones dying, or have experienced the death and degeneration of
a loved one.

Richard Ooms gives a harrowing and exhilarating performance as the once-impenetrable father who, in his old age, is slowly losing control of his
physical capacities and facing certain death. Rebecca Yoho and Heather Stone are
believable and solid as his helpless and suffering daughters, but ultimately the
script is too contrived to make us really care about the characters in any sense but
one — the fear that one day, we might be them.

“Death Penalty Puppetry”

I predict that Death Penalty Puppetry is going to be a hit. Not because it’s good, but because those puppets are damn cute, and because there’s a fisting joke, and because it will make some people think. Think about the death penalty, maybe. Think about puppetry, sure. For my two cents, it made me think that some Fringe shows would be better off with a 25 minute running time – long enough to be amusing and short enough not to fuck up too much with an under rehearsed last half. But such is the joy of the Fringe.

DPP uses a color scheme that I’m sure will be repeated throughout the Festival – red, white, and blue (and remember, register to vote…). The performers stand behind the stars-and-stripes set, using a combination of 10 professionally made puppets and 10 humans to portray over 40 characters, according to the program. A bit reminiscent of the quasi-sassy Broadway musical Avenue Q, Death Penalty Puppetry uses both puppets and humans onstage at the same time. It’s not an easy thing to do, and the most pleasurable (and silly) parts of the show are the seamlessness of this trick.

Those puppets are appealing, but there’s just not a lot of substance to the gimmick. Overall, Death Penalty Puppetry does manage to provide some interesting facts (did you know Shari Lewis won 5 Emmys for her show, Lambchop’s Play-Along?), but anyone who’s seriously thought about the death penalty won’t find much of an argument for or against it here, and you won’t get any new information. Occasionally, there are somewhat impassioned arguments between a goofy-looking day-glo puppet and shouting actor; while discussing the issue (the death penalty, not puppetry), the furry orange monster puppet bursts with frustration at his human antagonist. “It’s an emotional reaction!” he yells. “I know in my heart that it’s the right thing to do, and that’s all there is to it!”

This reminded me of a conversation I had with my husband about why Americans were going to vote for George Bush when there were so many damaging, reprehensible facts out there that would lead any sane person to vote for Kerry. “People vote from a gut reaction,” my husband stated. “Once someone gets a feeling about someone, that’s it. Most people don’t read the papers or ask questions. If they feel a certain way about a person, that’s all they need to know.”

A lot of people’s gut reactions are going to be that this was a really fun, inventive show, and they will tell their friends the go see it. But for those who have done their research, Death Penalty Puppetry isn’t going to be much more than an overlong diversion that leaves too many questions unanswered–among them, “Why puppets?”