One-person plays are a tough gig, even if the performer isn’t delving into their own polyamorous past, alcoholism, or divorce. Yet several solo performers will dare to cross the lines of bold comedy and intimate confession at the 2018 Capital Fringe Festival.
Kate Robards, who premiered her first solo play, Mandarin Orange, at Capital Fringe in 2014, returns with the semi-autobiographical PolySHAMory, about her misadventures in multiple loving. “I don’t think of it as [being] the only one up there because I have audience members that I interact with,” she says. “And people give you energy. It’s a really beautiful thing, where people will make a face and you get to respond and make a face back. It’s a living, breathing, moment-to-moment experience. Plus, I’m playing all of these characters, so they’re kind of with me as well.”
Jamie Brickhouse, performing Dangerous When Wet: Booze, Sex & My Mother, based on his own comic memoir, similarly brings multiple characters with him onstage, namely his larger-than-life mother. “She was like a small-town Texan Elizabeth Taylor with a split personality of Auntie Mame and Mama Rose,” says Brickhouse.
While the former standup comic is quick to crack wise about his mom, he confesses that Dangerous When Wet is more about catharsis, for both him and the audience.
“The story is about my alcoholism,” he says. “It’s about my coming of age in a small Texan town with my extremely adoring and sometimes smothering, suffocating Mama Jean, and then becoming an alcoholic. It’s about coming to New York and fulfilling my fantasy of living the glamorous life, and how that nearly kills me. There’s no nudity. But there’s a lot of sex stories that are not gratuitous. Because sexuality is part of the story I’m telling, linked in with my alcohol and drug abuse. So I get down and gritty with that.”
Of course, every Fringe soloist plots their own approach to telling soul-baring stories drawn from real life. Elan Zafir’s The Unaccompanied Minor focuses with unflinching honesty on the challenges of being a single dad. It’s far from a serious drama, however.
“I have a real sense of play when I do it, so I’m not going through some kind of a cathartic experience,” Zafir says. “I’m just taking you along this journey.”
The D.C.-based performer, recently seen in Mosaic Theater’s Paper Dolls and The Vagrant Trilogy, admits that flying solo poses its own challenges.
“It’s terrifying,” he says. “Unlike being in an ensemble, where I feel like you get into a boat together and you’re like, ‘Well, here we are,’ when things start to go sideways in a solo show, there’s just no one to turn to. There’s no one there to feed you a line if you get in trouble.”
A performer has control over shaping a compelling narrative. What they can’t control is how their version of the truth, once it’s rippled beyond the stage, will impact any of the real-life loved ones they’re depicting.
“It’s mostly dealing with shame of other people,” says Kate Robards. “As an artist you have to get over that, and to make art that reaches people [they] want the truth, they don’t want you to be fluffy and go at things with kid gloves. So you can be respectful of people while being really honest.”
The Unaccompanied Minor runs July 21, 27, and 28 at Christ United Methodist Church, 900 4th St, SW. PolySHAMory runs July 21, 25, 27, and 28 and Dangerous When Wet runs July 19, 21, and 24, both at St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church, 555 Water St, SW.St. Tickets are $17. For more on these and the remaining shows in Fringe’s final two weekends, call 866-811-4111, or visit capitalfringe.org.
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