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Fringe Review - Evil Dicks - Mumble Mumble Productions - 4 stars
Tweet review - Evil Dicks (my sold out Troy fallback) - new spin for Allison Broeren; well done pieces that don't quite add up, yet - 4 stars #mnfringe
"There was only one solution to my problem and it had to include violence."
The sold-out house for TROY! The Musical turned out to be a win-win. Mom still got to see the show, and really enjoyed it. And though I did not get to see it with her, being turned away from one show meant that fortunately nearby was another show I wanted to see anyway, Evil Dicks from Allison Broeren's Mumble Mumble Productions. I've enjoyed several of Allison's Fringe offerings in the past, and though this one was a departure from her usual autobiographical storytelling route, I expected to like it all the same.
"I started life as a disappointment."
A great title can be a double-edged sword. Marketing is a breeze with a catchy and/or provocative title. You capture people's attention, you stick in their minds. Every time they see your title, particularly in the mad crush of Fringe saturation marketing, you stand out. The flipside, of course, is that you then have the pressure to deliver on the title.
"Sometimes I loved them so much it hurt. Sometimes it just hurt."
The concept for Evil Dicks is a solid one. This time around Allison is digging into the minds of those society considers disturbed, and even dangerous. As I said in my commentary on her Fringe-For-All preview, because Allison has such a friendly and winning stage presence, she can suck you into the mind of someone quite unpleasant and before you know it, you're thinking, "Well, hey, that sounds rational enough" - even though the person you're thinking this about is the Unabomber. It's a tricky conceit that Allison pulls off nicely, and it gets the audience to think about things they'd rather easily dismiss.
"Sex is about the money."
The opening for Evil Dicks is the strongest portion of the program. The opening crawl of text (Star Wars style) recounting the evolution of evil dicks in our society is hilarious, and sets a tone of irreverence that is immediately turned on its head (in a good way) by Allison's turn as the Unabomber. Following the Unabomber example, Allison also performed a great turn as Belle Gunness, America's most prolific female serial killer, back in the late 1800s/early 1900s. 40 victims, that we know of, and depending on what version of the tale you believe, she was never caught. This lady literally got away with murder, repeatedly. Again, as with the Unabomber, Allison takes us inside the mind of Belle Gunness and her efficient method of working.
"Time to go see if that ultimate forest exists."
The challenge with Evil Dicks is that I don't think Allison has been working long enough with this conceit yet to have developed a Fringe show's worth of material that fits the title. The two other stories are approached in the same vein first person character study. Allison takes on the mantle of Christopher Robin, son of A.A. Milne, the author who turned his son's namesake character and beloved sidekick teddy bear Winnie The Pooh into a children's literature powerhouse. Here, we have the real life Christopher Robin confiding on his deathbed to Pooh. It's a charming character study, and a setup fraught with genuinely earned sentiment. But who's the Evil Dick here? Pooh? Nope. Christopher Robin? Nope. A.A. Milne? Well, it turns out dad was none too happy to be stuck in the very lucrative ghetto of children's literature his whole life, hijacked by one of his own characters. Dad may have blamed Christopher Robin just a little bit but it hardly seems to be Unabomber or Bell Gunness-grade dickishness. Now Walt Disney, that's a more complicated story. But we don't touch on that here.
"It was time that everyone took notice."
The other non-dickish residents of this Fringe show gallery are the characters of the Collyer Brothers - Homer and Langley, found dead amongst tons of junk they'd collected and boarded up with them in their booby-trapped brownstone in New York City back in the early to mid 1900s. Agoraphobes? Probably. Anti-social? Sure. Evil Dicks? More sad and pathetic than menacing. Misunderstood like the others, perhaps, but not any more evil than Christopher Robin.
"I shut my eyes and I think of the woods. The forest. The mountains."
There are also a number of video interludes with a who's who of local storytellers and comedians from Allison's circle of friends - Mike Fotis, Katherine Glover, Allegra Lingo, phillip andrew bennet low, Tom Reed, and Ben San Del, just to name a few. Spliced together were tales of bad behavior done by them and/or to them that were most amusing. The audio and video quality, as we were warned in the program, was uneven. Sometimes the soundtrack that accompanied the interviews overpowered the subjects a bit and you had to lean forward and read lips to be sure you were getting what they meant to convey. In a production full of disturbing evil dicks, these interludes would have provided welcome comic relief. Here in the current mix the relief wasn't quite as needed, and the confusion of tone intensified. There was so much cheeky attitude, or non-dickish character study, here that it was hard to keep the focus on the dark side.
The only reason I return to the dark side is that the show did. At the end, there was a final video crawl of questions. Unlike the beginning, these questions about the nature of evil, and whether anything justifies it, seemed to be quite serious. Undercutting that tone was the same (deliberately) overly bombastic soundtrack that accompanied the opening crawl and the video interludes. And here's the thing - if you ended with either Allison's take on the Unabomber or Belle Gunness, I wouldn't need that final crawl of questions about evil. Allison's very effective storytelling and character presentation of those figures implies each and every one of those questions in my mind. Fade to black on Belle or the Unabomber or someone else like them, and you've done your job, you've planted the unsettling seed in my brain to take out of the theater with me.
As an experiment in a different style of storytelling, I think this was a success for Allison. The only failing was a lack of material which fit the title to fill a whole Fringe show with this conceit. I look forward to more of this kind of character study from Allison, in addition to her always engaging personal work. Perhaps she'll accumulate enough sketchy dudes and gals in the near future to present us with Still More Evil Dicks or You Thought Those Dicks Were Evil, Check Out These Sick Puppies. In the meantime, time spent with Allison is always time well spent.
4 Stars - Highly Recommeded