nytheatre.com review by Theresa Buchheister
July 25, 2012
I cannot recall the last time that I was surprised by theatre. I've been recently impressed, moved, dismayed, excited, mesmerized... But truly surprised? Not lately and not often. I did not think that a power bottom Canadian wizard in a diaper would be the one to do it. I guess that is part of what makes it surprising: expectations shift or break or transform.
This altering of expectation exists in the persona of performer/writer Anthony Johnston, in individual moments (micro scale), and in the structure and philosophical core of the piece (macro scale). All of these are possible because the show is 100% relatable and 0% predictable. (Neither of which will be compromised by this review.)
Tenderpits is an autobiographical story effortlessly refracted through a multi-surface avant shard of glass. It is as if Daniil Kharms wrote stand-up.
Early on, Johnston zings about the stage in his diaper, glasses, and stocking hat saying, "I'm here! Now I'm here! Now I'm here!..." and so on. Because he's a wizard, he explains, that is why he can do what he is doing. Of course and thank you. In doing this seemingly simple entertaining bit, he shifts the audience expectations of a typical one-man show with a straightforward narrative, enabling us to follow him anywhere, if we just keep watching. This is a solid way in which to view all experimental, non-linear art... watch what is in front of you and don't worry about "getting it," because you will get what you need to get if you can be present.
Johnston is a dynamic performer, moving seamlessly between direct address, interpretive dance, drag, Chekhov, mime, multi-character dialoguing, Disney and metal vocalizing, humorous Nintendo-scored masturbating and devastating grief masturbating, all with a touch of sincerely reflective clown. There is no hesitation in his transitions, and, as a result, no explanation necessary. However, because he traveled the range of performance genres and methods, I was never sure what would happen next. He gave us clues (if the TLC ring tone sounded, his sister was going to appear, for example), because the structure of the show is intricate, precise, and specific (credit to his co-creator and director, Nathan Schwartz). But even though I responded to these leads, the path post-lead was one of mystery, every time.
The elements that came together to create this show are paired in ways that I had never imagined... sometimes it is a technique with an idea, or a meme with personal moment, or two truths bumping bellies (actors doing one man shows ARE very similar to personal story wielding panhandlers!). I frantically scribbled in the dark all of these magical pairings, because they just kept happening. But these were all moments in a greater framework. The way that these relationships began to weave through each other to create the fabric of the show made me actually nod with appreciation in the dark of the audience. It is the show itself, composed of a top notch creative team, distinctly wonderful moments, and a deep respect for structure, that blew me away.
The show IS a one man show, it IS multimedia, it IS avant-garde, it IS side-splittingly hilarious. It is also the most insightful expression of grief that I have seen in theatre. Every person comes into the theatre with their own story going on, certainly. When I walked into 59E59, I was exhausted from having found no way to comprehend a thing that we all know to be true: death. I was in a state of grieving. It was wonderful to laugh and be excited about the show in front of me. But then, as the show entered the last 10-15 minutes, and it dove without fear into the confusion of loss, I just started crying quietly and felt a strange moment of clarity. And then I laughed again.
I will repeat, I did not expect any of this from a guy in diaper.
Note: Tenderpits is going abroad next week, but when the team that made it returns to New York, they aim to do the show again and develop a sequel.