Carnival Knowledge: Love, Lust, and Other Human Oddities
nytheatre.com review by Lynn Berg
August 18, 2011
Naomi Grossman is looking for love. Or lust. Or "The One." Maybe she's looking in the wrong places, because her dating life looks curiously like a carnival. What Grossman's not looking for is laughs. She knows where to find those. She's one funny lady and Carnival Knowledge: Love, Lust and Other Human Oddities is one funny show.
Grossman presents a line-up of bad dates and bad relationships as sideshow freaks. Step inside and be amazed and shocked by the yoga instructor, and the 60-year-old actor with special skills. See the Good Jewish Boy and the guy in the chicken suit. This show is a cheap, cheesy, low-brow, grotesque, poetic, erotic, guilty pleasure. Unlike other carnivals, though, it's also a laugh riot.
At first Grossman comes off like the carnival barker but soon enough she settles into the timing and rhythm of a standup comedian. With Richard Embardo's direction she's honed her story to a series of punch lines, pun lines, and clever wordplay. Set them up and knock them down.
To her additional credit, Grossman's not afraid to look like one of the geeks herself. She portrays herself as foolish, shallow, ugly, silly and this makes her very funny, sexy and smart. She gives a delectably physical performance with assistance from choreographer Rodrigo Guzman.
The midway has support from other able carnies, too. The well-done set by Steven K. Barnett and April Lawrence is a couple of sideshow banners and garish, practical cubes. Stuart Fabel's lighting is rigged to thrill with lurid effects mirrored by Kelley Rodgers' sound design.
The minor bump on Grossman's ride comes from a predictable ending straight of a rom-com rulebook. It's disappointing partly because "The One" she finds isn't sketched out much more deeply than her other freakish suitors. And partly because we go to carnivals (and Fringe shows) to be shocked and titillated, not to be comforted. Fortunately, Grossman's epiphany still comes with laughs.
As we gawkers find our way to the grand egress of the Kraine Theater, our curiosities satiated, we're still chuckling at Grossman's ballyhoo and payoffs. She and Carnival Knowledge are winners, clanging the audience's bell over and over again.