A FISTFUL OF FRINGE
by Michael Price
One reviewer thought it was supposed to be a stand-up comedy routine. Boy, was he disappointed.
The Etch-A-Sketch guy (from the show) was my roommate three times at HCMC—once on second and twice on fourth. He was an excellently-diagnosed schizophrenic, and a helluva nice guy, especially if you caught him on a good day. Might’ve been him. He got out occasionally, and had a nice smile.
We certainly didn’t bill the show that way. A few cute lines sprinkled among the weeds and thistles of depression, sure; but not exactly Henny Youngman, all medication aside. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a stand-up comic start weeping uncontrollably right before the big killer finishing joke.
I’m not sure that would work.
Had to be the Etch-A-Sketch guy.
Another reviewer thought it was “…disturbingly good.” Which, the more I think about it, was a disturbingly nice comment.
My uncle Ron said it made him feel “…uncomfortable…”–that he thought there were a number of funny lines, but he was afraid to laugh. Then he quickly added, “But I’ve never been to a psych-ward before,” which explained a lot.
A friend of mine from the gym started rushing the stage immediately after the show, in pursuit of a big bear hug of congratulations, assumedly, even before I had taken my first bow.
Deliriously in shock, obviously.
But of course, prior to that night, Rolf had never seen me without a bunch of barbells in my hands.
As much as I like Rolf—and I do–stereotypes suck, and I’m pretty sure they always will; pass it on, and don’t pussy-foot around. Yell.
There were at least two anonymous reviews that I know of, which don’t count, of course, because, for whatever lame-ass reason, they wished to remain anonymous.
Not a problem on this end.
I hereby deem you utterly pointless. You do not exist. And if we should ever meet, I’ll be happy to tell you that in person.
I went up to the home to visit the folks the week before the run of the show. Gave ’em both Fringe postcards, told ’em a little about it. Mom was in too much pain to blink, and rolled over. Dad said he hoped to be there opening night, and resumed his life on the railroad in Kansas, as the lady-in-white, who just happened to be standing in the neighborhood, failed to smile over his shoulder, as was her wont in such matters.
Of course, dad lives–and always will—in a lock-down ward, for his and everyone else’s safety; a prisoner trapped in his own mind, so I encouraged him in his endeavor to come to the show. He wasn’t going anywhere, but he didn’t need to know that. I hope he gets there some day, but he won’t. He’s not going anywhere, so I encouraged him to try.
Mom has no such restrictions, so no such encouragement was necessary.
An old friend from high school, someone I really didn’t spend a whole lot of time with back then, a gal who I hadn’t even seen since high school, headlined her review of the show, “I laughed, I cried.”
Now how the hell did she know? I wonder who else knew.
There was a mostly negative review from a lady who didn’t much like the show, said it didn’t really go anywhere, but that I did an excellent job of portraying a mentally ill patient.
Not sure which way to take that one.
First of all, the notion that it didn’t really go anywhere seems apropos, for some reason, but I’m kinda stuck on why.
Secondly, I appreciate the acting accolade, but how did she know that? Which would seem to be a fairly pertinent question, under the circumstances. With whom was she comparing me to? What lucky bastard served as her measuring tool? Maybe I know him.
And lastly, as Larry (my L.A. guru-of-an-acting-coach and theatrical agent) used to preach to me, in approaching the portrayal of any new role, “Research, my boy, research.”
With that influence under my belt, I sure as hell should’ve been convincing, dammit.
When I first decided to do the show, I was excited about appearing on stage for the first time in fifteen years. Back in college, I remember eagerly looking forward to the possibility of making an ass outta myself in public as often as possible. As the line in the play reads, “Where do I sign? What do I gotta do?”
That was then.
It feels so good to be done.
This was a chore. Every performance had to be done. I looked forward to the days off. Same script, same chore. I have always hated that word. A chore is a chore. Just do it. Dad always said that–just do it. Mom had nothing to do with the execution of chores and, believe me, I did ’em.
Of course, as any actor will leap down your throat to tell you, no performance is exactly like any other, and I tested and proved that theory with great originality and resourcefulness during the run of the show, starting with the very first line, opening night.
Anybody that has ever appeared on stage knows that lines get changed or dropped completely every once in a while—it happens. But I feel comfortably safe in saying that I am the first person in the history of the theatre that actually dropped the first line of his own play. Opening night, no less.
After that, I was fine; that performance went okay. But I remember thinking at the time, sitting there on stage, after forgetting the first line of my own play, where the hell are you? And what are you doing on stage in the first place?
Asked and answered.
I was surprised to discover how difficult it was to memorize my own script. Yes, I know it’s fifty-five long minutes worth of prating babblement but I wrote it, for Pete’s sake. Uncle Ron wondered how much of the show was improvised, and seemed somewhat distressed when I told him that not one word of it was improvised. It was a script, after all.
I wish he hadn’t brought it up, because now that kinda distresses me a little bit, too.
I was also surprised at the number of positive responses that surfaced concerning my acting. Going in, I was pretty sure I had a solid, well-written script. I hoped my words would be good enough to carry my lack of recent acting experience through the run of the show.
Frankly, I had my doubts.
It always used to surprise me every time someone asked me to sing at their wedding.
Really? Me? At your wedding? Are you sure?
I never thought I was all that great of an actor in college. Sure, I got cast—all the time–but about three-quarters of the time they weren’t the roles I auditioned for.
Evidently, life experience really does count. I’m older; most of my favorite actors are old. And again, and I don’t think this can possibly be overstated—research, research, research.
Thanks a lot, Larry.
I was relentless, man. It’s in my file, signed by many psych-docs.
As for the production aspect of the show, the nuts and bolts of producing a play? Never again. And, for the most part, that wasn’t even my department.
And I still hated it.
My Aunt Elaine saw the show closing night. Smart lady, Elaine. Big I.Q., reads a lot, used to teach lit-classes to smart people. She didn’t say much after the show. She just stared at me, big smile, minimal blinking.
I took that as a compliment, but I might’ve been wrong.
A high school teacher of mine that I have managed to keep in touch with over the years, who wasn’t able to get to the show, asked me to rate—on a one to ten basis–my overall Fringe experience.
After very little thought, I gave it a six.
Mom just died.
Dad lives on.
The Etch-A- Sketch guy was right. Shoulda been a comedy.
Widely published in literary journals, Michael Price has been writing fiction for over 30 years. He earned his BA in Theater from the University of Minnesota in 1980 and performed his own one-man one-act play “No Change of Address” to considerable acclaim at the 2011 MN Fringe Festival.