Sunday, July 18, 2010

Fringe 2010 - FFA1 - An Actor I've Seen Pretty Much Everywhere BUT the Fringe

Another unexpectedly charming Fringe-For-All preview that got my attention...

St. Christopher of Financial Aid

The Peanut Butter Factory

"At Zenith University, the nation's fourth leading online campus, our students come first. That's why our Financial Aid Associates are available during normal business hours, five days a week. Call us anytime, and we'll hold your hand as you borrow hundreds of thousands of dollars from the United States Department of Education, while we patiently listen to your vindictive screaming about things over which we have absolutely no control. We're here for you."

This is not the story of one actor's foray into the corporate world.

This is the story of a friendship, and the modern miracle of a legitimate human connection.

See, *this* is how to do a preview. This is what I was talking about before when I said that one's who had their sh*t together really stood out next to the ones who obviously needed a few more weeks of rehearsal, or just chose their excerpt poorly.

One person shows can be deadly. One person shows based entirely on phone calls can be even more deadly. But Christopher Kehoe knows what he's doing. He knows how to work with a microphone (which you think wouldn't be hard, but you'd be wrong - there were plenty of examples of people, with and without microphones, who couldn't enunciate or project their voices to save their lives. And I know it's an unfamiliar space. And it's big, but it's not that big. This will not be the last time I type this during Fringe season, I'm sure but - always err on the side of talking too slowly, and always err on the side of being too loud. You may think you're talking slowly, you may think you're talking loudly. Most of the time, on stage, you're wrong. Nerves take over and you become the verbal equivalent Speedy Gonzales - fast and mouse-like. Take your time, and speak up!) Kehoe doesn't have that problem.

Kehoe also knows how to manifest completely different characters with his voice. So he's carrying on a totally believable conversation - with himself. And then layering in an internal monologue on top of the external phone call, berating himself for going too easy on an internet-phobic caller. Internet-phobic, and attending an online university. The operator at the college resists the urge to tell the guy, "maybe this place isn't the right fit for you." It's quick, it's funny, both the characters are clearly drawn and vocally distinct. Just really sharp work. It made me want to see the show, which, of course, is the whole point.

Plus, bonus points for inclusion of a Katharine Hepburn quote I hadn't heard before. The legendary film actress was once quoted as saying, "Life is hard. After all, it kills you."

And I've seen a lot of Christopher Kehoe sort of by accident in the past couple of years. There was Frank Theatre's By The Bog of Cats which visiting my second day job at the Guthrie up in the Dowling Studio. There was 20% Theatre Company's Teach Me Tonight which I saw as an Ivey evaluator. And then there was Sandbox Theatre's .faust late last year which I saw for the Twin Cities Daily Planet. His bio says right after the Fringe he's off to Denmark to study commedia dell'arte at The Commedia School in Copenhagen. He's certainly not letting any grass grow under his feet.

In fact, probably the only significant thing he's done lately that I haven't seen was, oddly enough, a Fringe show. Last year's offering from Theatre Pro Rata - Monster. I have to admit this was partly deliberate. The subject matter kind of squicked me out. I'm a pussy, I admit it. But damn, they got some great reviews for it. While financial aid and customer service may be a different kind of horror story for some, it's a horror story I can handle.

His press release elaborated a bit...

"St. Christopher is based on a true story, set in the financial aid office of an online university. Unlike a brick-and-mortar school, this staff will never meet any students; everything is done online or over the telephone. So in a society infatuated with online social media, and in a corporate structure plagued by rituals and regulations, the modern miracle of a legitimate human connection between Financial Aid Associate and student becomes all the more sacred."

Random interesting gimmick...

"Publicly-available onstage coffee is generously donated by Black Sheep Coffee Cafe."

Lyric junkie alert...

"Paul Simon fanatics will also enjoy numerous allusions to some of his most popular music."

We bounced a couple of emails back and forth and he said...

"It's a solo show that I created based on my time temping in a financial aid office for an online university. The 'thing' that I want to get dirty in is a reality check of where human relationships are in 2010; you can now receive a college education online and manage your social life on a networking website, but is an actual human connection so rare that it could be seen as a miracle? Could it be any more bizarre when the thing keeping a 23-yr-old white Minneapolis actor sane is an old black dude from Cincinnati, with whom, when we finally do say goodbye, there is a twinge of sentimentality? (He actually did call me a saint, which started this whole mess.) So it's that, nestled in a corporate satire that'll appeal to anyone who's ever had to dance the HR Dance."

Heck, I think I even remember his stage manager, who's also a playwright, from my days running a weekly new play reading series at the Playwrights' Center in one of my previous lives.

Just another accumulation of reasons, along with that preview, that I'm finding St. Christopher of Financial Aid creeping up the list of things I need to work into my Fringe schedule this year.

His website -

His Fringe page

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