Sympathetic Sucker or Gutless Wimp?
Yesterday was tough, and I'll tell you why. Here at the PiPress, as I'm sure you've noticed, we intrepid reviewers are instructed to toss each show into one of three buckets: "Must See," "Worth Considering" and "Avoid Like the Plague." This year, I'm finding that task really,
really, hard. Don't like it at all.
"Must See" is not the problem. Everyone loves finding a show that's cool or nifty or funny enough to warrant a hearty endorsement. When something really engages me for an hour, I feel great about spreading the word.
The real problem I'm having is with "Avoid Like the Plague" (ALTP). Ouch. That just hurts. It's really a bit on the harsh side for the run-of-the-mill mediocrities I've been loading up on this year.
Here's what it boils down to: In order for me to get behind a statement as harsh as "ALTP," I think the show in question has to be really offensively bad. Like, when you get that sense that a
performer is so haughty and self-centered that they never stopped to think how an audience might be bored to tears by their litany of crap. Or when a company aims to offend and stir up controversy, but does it with so little forethought or intelligence that they wind up with a big haphazard mess, instead of a provocative piece of work.
Those folks--and yes, those shows are somewhere to be found at every Fringe--those folks deserve "ALTP."
But what about the stuff I saw yesterday? Take "Bud 'n' Wally," the piece about the friendship between Marlon Brando and "Underdog" comedian Wally Cox. Great premise, but a terribly executed script.
Just terrible. Talk about clunky exposition: "We've been friends since we were 9 years old," one character would say to another. "I remember our long hikes and talks so well." Or, "Your mom was an alcoholic." Picture that for an hour. I'd be willing to bet that Brando's IMDb filmography page contains more organic drama.
Still, the script was well-acted by two earnest and talented young men. And the writer-director, a longtime journalist who was producing his first show, came down for a curtain speech and actually wept. He was so thrilled at having his show produced and seen by a real live
In the real, non-Fringe world, this show would have earned a pretty severe pan. But this is the Fringe. I'm happy for that writer-director, as bad as I found his script. His heart was in the right place, big-time. And so I wrote an honest, not-too-nice 100-word review and slapped a "Worth Considering" on it. It veered close to "ALTP," but I can't go there. Not after he wept.
Maybe we need another category. "Crappy, But Not Offensively So." Or "Won't Quite Bore You to Tears." Or "A Show Only Friends and Family Could Love."