Fringe Audience, Day One

Last night I saw “Gork! The Retard Always Wins”, a one woman show about a midwestern family dealing with their retarded brother, (although even that description undermines the show somewhat). Autumn Terrill, the writer and performer of the piece, tells the true story of her brother Adam, who, like most kids with learning disabilities, goes through a series of diagnoses and medications while privately thrilling and terrifying his family.

As I talk about the Fringe, I want to say something about why I go to each of the shows I’m going to. There is at least one show I’m gonna go see that I am *dragging* myself to because the description sounds terrible and the title sucks, but I know one of the performers and Mac saw the last show these people did and said it was great. But a lot of these shows have their own private ways of getting me to come see them.

Gork got me for several reasons. I can smell affection from a mile away, and it was obvious in all the press stuff about this show that the producers *love* the material. Mostly because they love the subject, but you can also smell when someone is making a show that is a life’s passion. That sock puppet showgirls thing? That sounds like hollow hatred. If they decided to remake a great movie with sock puppets, I would want to go, or if you could tell that they were remaking a movie that everyone else hated, but that they loved, I would go. But they hate the material.

I have to admit that it was subject material… plus the mention of “Iowa”. Maybe that doesn’t help anyone else sell their show, but if you’re from Iowa, I’ll come see your shit. Actually, the guy with the stillborn one man show was passing out flyers in line, and when I realized he was from the midwest and only in town for a little bit to do his show, it made me want to see it. So, I guess, feature your ethnicity whenever possible, even if that ethnicity is “Iowan”.

Autumn Terrill and her producers and directors love the show and love the guy it’s based on. And man, did they deliver. At no point during the show did Autumn ever make it seem as if living with Adam was anything other than *awesome*. She tells a story that contains almost no touchy-feely family love, which is the way our lives actually *are*. She walks that tightrope of describing a real fucked-up disfunctional family as it functions, not only normally, but normally with the addition of an ADHD Autistic Retard band marching through their lives wearing KISS make-up, and she describes it so well that you feel like it’s your family. Most of our parents live lives of desperate hostility and mild affection, both with each other and with us, their kids and when you see someone portray that on stage, it’s really an amazing revelation.

She also walks the fine line between theater and advocacy. You leave with a better understanding of the parameters of disorder, or rather the lack of distinction therein, but you also, y’know, laugh and laugh and want to know what happens. She plays each member of her family only with distinct physical cues. it’s a lesson in simplicity and economy that would be good for anyone doing a one person show. Her mom folded her hands, her dad rounded his shoulders, her brother had one hand on his jock, and that’s it.

Man, as an aside, I hate one person shows. There’s nothing worse than one character saying something that the other character is surprised by, only to have the same actor play both characters. And there’s nothing more boring in drama than *not* having one character tell the other characters something surprising. Also, I usually don’t care about your story. Sure, yeah, you discovered you were gay and no-one understood, okay, you were at the Twin Towers when they came down, all right, your grandfather got cancer and you really miss him. If you’re not going to spend an hour doing an impersonation of your retarded brother, I don’t want to go.

And, actually, that’s my only mild criticism of the show. It doesn’t feed seemlessly between the stand-up, talking to the audience as Autumn sections and the act-’em-out, this is my family on vacation sections. She seemed to be really comfortable being herself, and really comfortable being her family, but not so comfortable making the transition from one to the other. In situations like this I blame the director, who’s work besides this was remarkable, because it is problems like this that a director is supposed to fix.

But, the playing space was about 12 by 12, the audience space was about 13 by 13 and the ceilings were lower than my apartment. The director made the show work in these ridiculous circumstances, so I wouldn’t dare want to criticize more than that. If you’re in New York, go see the show. You won’t cry, I promise, you won’t need to. You’ll just think it’s awesome. It’s fun and empowering and a *great* way to spend an hour.

Today, The Dead Sea, and maybe The Jammer. Reviews tomorrow probably won’t be this extensive unless I really like them.