Giving Grief - the more we talk about what Kelvin Hatle did here, the more impressed we got, precise smart solo comedy - 5 stars
Ever wonder when you read a review, “Did that person see the same show I saw?” I did this morning, when I saw what I thought was a baffling review of the opening performance of Kelvin Hatle’s Giving Grief (under the producing umbrella of Schroedinger’s Dog - a name that never fails to amuse me). But in this case, I knew we’d both seen the same show, we just saw it very differently. All the things that perplexed this person, I understood and personally quite enjoyed.
“So I shot him. Oops.”
I hadn’t seen a Hatle show before at the Fringe, though I’d wanted to (time, scheduling, location, the usual Fringe hiccups that get you seeing one show rather than another). But I’d always heard great things about his previous three solo shows, so I was happy to finally get a chance to experience one for myself. Hatle doesn’t disappoint.
“Well, he wouldn’t have fallen out of the window if he hadn’t been dodging the bullets coming out of my gun.”
Benny, the central character of Giving Grief, is a geek. He’s also a professional hitman. He just doesn’t curse, dress or generally conduct himself in the way his fellow hitmen do. This social mismatch between him and the rest of his co-workers means that Benny starts to find it harder and harder to get a decent assignment. Which is a shame, because Benny is *very* good at killing people. Efficient. Ruthless. Always gets the job done.
“Woo hoo, it’s Mardi Gras on Gallifrey!”
The problem is that so much of being a hitman is (pardon the pun) killing time, waiting around for the target to show up. Benny can’t help but try and pass the time with a variety of conversational gambits - a grab bag of references abound: Triple Yahtzee, Hello Kitty, Jabberjaw, Star Wars, Doctor Who (both classic and modern), ketchup, cult horror and sci fi films, Dr. Seuss. When someone gets fed up and tries to shut Benny up permanently, Benny feels he has no choice but to make the world a little safer for professionals such as himself.
“So, first time doing meth?”
All of this is accomplished by Hatle, by himself, conducting one-sided conversations alone onstage and miming pretty much every situation and prop that’s needed. When it begins, I have to admit to wondering, “OK, how long can he keep this going?” Turns out, he can keep it going quite entertainingly for the full stretch of the hour. And when a real (prop) gun comes out at the climax of the play, you’re aware the ground under the story has really shifted, and things are coming to their very serious conclusion.
“Hobo. Toadsuck. Hobo. Toadsuck. Hobo. Toadsuck.”
Because up until then, when that singular prop appears, Hatle’s brilliantly executed, extremely precise physical work onstage makes it very clear what’s going on at any given moment as he works through a whole series of very different ways of killing people. We meet him humming “The Girl from Ipanema” as he sets up a chair, drags on a dead body, puts a cigarette in its mouth, douses the place with gasoline, and ignites a temporarily reluctant cigarette lighter to obscure the evidence of his latest hit. The only thing we see, besides Hatle, is the chair. Everything else, he creates for us out of thin air.
“You ever just want to eat a whole loaf of French toast?”
Later, there’s a sequence where he’s making balloon animals. Once he climbs up and down the walls of the stage to get a better sight on a target that keeps inconveniently moving just as he gets himself in place for the shot with his sniper rifle. But whether it’s choking, stabbing, unloading guns both large and small, jabbing someone with a syringe, roofie-ing someone with poison, or taking an ax to back of their head, Hatle’s movements as Benny make his deadly day job crystal clear.
“I know people can survive head wounds. I’ve seen Kill Bill.”
In addition to the comedy inherent in Hatle’s character work as the nerdy hitman, there are also amusing set pieces such as a silent killing spree set to tune of the lead track on his “Emergency Playlist” - Wham’s “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go.” And Benny’s recounting of how he accidentally got into the killing business, and upending a human trafficking operation in the process, should be a clear sign not to mess with this guy. His enemies never learn - bad for them, entertaining for us.
“Blah blah blah - human trafficking - blah blah blah - people need help - blah blah blah.”
Giving Grief requires the audience to pay attention, fill in the blanks and decode the unseen in a way a lot of other Fringe shows probably won’t, but you’re rewarded for paying attention. 10pm on a Saturday night might not have been the best slot to premiere a show like this. Thankfully, many of Giving Grief’s remaining performances are earlier in the afternoon or evening, when an audience is more likely to be fresh and can give it the attention it requires.
“First time shooter, long time admirer.”
Giving Grief isn’t a solo show tackling big issues like other Fringe shows. But it’s a great showcase for the writer/performer, and a lot of gruesome fun for an audience willing to play along. No gore, no loud noises, not even any cursing (Benny’s averse), but Benny’s a deadly serious guy when he gets to work. It’s an action comedy of a different breed, and well worth your time to see.
5 stars - Very Highly Recommended