Monday, August 21, 2006

The Pumpkin Pie Show: Les Petites Mortes (Fringe '06 Experience #1)

Fortunately, I did get into The Pumpkin Pie Show at the DR2 on Friday, my first Fringe show of the year.

What was also fortunate was that the show was actually good.

The Pumpkin Pie Show, created by writer Clay McLeod Chapman, is (according to its Web site) "a rigorous storytelling session amplified by its own live soundtrack."

That is to say, its shows consist of performers telling short stories over music.

This latest collection of stories written by Mr. Chapman, entitled Les Petites Mortes, are five disparate tales loosely centered around love and death, relayed/performed by Daryl Lathon, Ronica Reddick, Abe Goldfarb and Mr. Chapman himself.

As the performers tell the stories, a brass band (The Praise of Folly) plays accompanying music written by Joseph Keady (think a cross between Morphine and John Lurie's Lounge Lizards and you've got a kinda-sorta idea of the band's sound).

After Ms. Reddick performed a song concerning cannibalism, Mr. Lathon performed "Product Placement," a story about a man finding a picture of his wife's corpse in the newspaper alongside pictures of women shilling aspirin and clothes. The following story, "Throwing Golem" (performed again by Ms. Reddick), was about a pottery-maker lamenting the death of her six-year-old son named, coincidentally, Clay (the author of the stories and of course a pun on her profession). Mr. Goldfarb played a worker at a crematorium who would pilfer the gold tooth fillings in the dead bodies that showed up to his work in "Fillings." In "Oldsmobile," Mr. Chapman played an old man finding out the perks (and pitfalls) of having a wife with Alzheimer's. The final story, "Giving Head," had Ms. Reddick retelling the Biblical story of Judith in a more graphic way than those familiar with The Bible are used to.

Some of these stories are funny, some are sad; some are a deft hybrid between the two.

Overall, the show was a fine evening of good old-fashioned storytelling, something very rare nowadays in theatre (apart from children's storytelling theatre). Mr. Chapman clearly has a talent for writing short stories in a time when the market for short stories is sadly going the way of the dodo (although collections of his short stories are available on Amazon).

This makes for an original evening of theatre. As Gothamist writer Krissa Corbett Cavouras aptly described The Pumpkin Pie Show in her March 2006 essay on Mr. Chapman: "The genre is difficult to describe - it's not a play, and it's not a reading. It's simply Chapman's mind, set to actors and music."

The best stories by far were "Oldsmobile" and "Product Placement," both of which were able to find the right balance of silliness and tragic (i.e., that, "That's So Awful You Can't Help But Laugh" feeling) without going too far overboard in either direction. Daryl Lathon is able to relay in "Product Placement" both the horror of seeing a photo of his wife's dead body in the newspaper and the absurdity of how she looks like just another model selling some sort of product. (Right next to the photo is a picture of a woman selling a brand of pain-reliever. Sure enough, the guy has some pain he needs relieving.) Clay McLeod Chapman explains in "Oldsmobile" (nyuck nyuck nyuck) the joy in being able to get his senile wife to fall in love with him all over again and see him for the first time yet realizes that she's fading further away from him day by day.

The cast is also excellent. I should point out right now that, with the exception of Mr. Chapman, I personally know the actors involved in this show and know them to be superlative performers. None of them let me down or made me waver on this opinion.

Now, I must comment that I wasn't really sold on the music. Much of the accompanying music didn't seem to correspond with what the performers were saying. This isn't meant to be a slight on the abilities of the musicians (the music itself was good), but much of it was too disconnected with that was being said on the stage. Despite this, the music wasn't actively distracting, so I won't belabor the point.

Anyway, it's pretty damn good. Check it out if you can.

The Pumpkin Pie Show: Les Petites Mortes has one more performance in the Fringe on Saturday, August 26 at 2 p.m. You can buy tickets here.

Dying a little inside,

James "Pumpkinhead" Comtois


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