Friday, August 07, 2015

2015 Fringe Review - Backlash

Tweet Review - Backlash - mom says Josh Carson's shows get better every year; I agree 5 stars

There are days I don’t think we deserve Josh Carson, but I’m awfully glad he’s here.  Mom can always rely on him for a lot of laughs any year he’s got a show in the Fringe Festival, just as he does this year, with Backlash.  But, as Mom rightly points out, Josh turned it up a notch this year.  For her, that can be summed by saying, “That scene between him and his wife…”  If you see the show, and you should (because who doesn’t like to laugh?), you’ll know the scene she’s talking about.  It’s not the funniest scene in Backlash.  There are a lot of other candidates for that honor.  But like many of the best scenes in Backlash, there’s a lot of genuine emotion, and even pain, lurking under the surface.

“And that’s how I nailed Helen Mirren.”

There’s nothing like honest, slightly embarrassing sentiment, as a set up for a joke to undercut it and not take ourselves so seriously.  Carson’s theatrical machine, the aptly titled Mainly Me Productions, has been through some life transitions between Fringes.  Since last year’s Our American Assassin, or You Can’t Handle The Booth!, Carson’s main partner in crime Andy Rocco Kraft got married and moved to California.  Now Carson’s comedy protege from shows like Class of ’98 and One Hit Thunder, Tucker Garborg will be heading off arts college in the fall.  The guys’ll come back in the summer for Fringe shows as needed, but hey, life moves on whether we want it to or not.  It’s that inevitable tide of life’s transitions that Carson mines for humor in Backlash.

“I think I had a stroke.  Here’s Madonna.”

Bill and Allie Young (Carson and Sara Marsh) are married teachers at the local high school.  Bill’s student Blair (Garborg) has filmed a gag video (Law and Order - With Farts) that goes viral and gets him national attention.  It also gets him - and Bill - an audition for Saturday Night Live, which sets them off on a road trip to New York. 

“Are there any gluten free options?  I have celiac, I’m not an asshole.”

Along the way, they pick up another traveler, the relentlessly optimistic Hope (Sulia Altenberg), whose car doesn’t recover from trouble as easily as theirs does.  They also run into the SNL cast member Wesley Wallace (Kraft)  - the guy they might be auditioning to replace.  Wesley is a reluctant star who wants out of his contract so badly, he’ll happily help Blair try to ace the audition process.  Playing a host of other roles, including the ominous ruler of SNL, Lorne Michaels, is Nels Lennes.

“If you’d taken the improv class I recommended, you’d have an excuse by now.”

There’s a lot of heartfelt moments packed inside all the laughs of Backlash.  It’s an engaging mix that keeps the comedy side from getting too crass, and the sentimental side from getting too treacly.  It’s a delicate balance, tilted toward the comedy side of things, because who wants to dwell too long on life’s changes and disappointments if you can find a way to smile instead? 

“I do improv in the back of a bowling alley for drink tickets.”

It always astonishes me how Carson can not only produce and write but also act in and direct his own work.  Not everyone has the presence of mind to see themselves and the work clearly enough from the outside to be able to get the whole thing to work.  It’s a gift he has that I have to admit I envy.  Also, it helps to have the kind of collaborators he has in Garborg, Kraft, Altenberg (another Mainly Me regular), Lennes and now Marsh.  They make it all look so easy, but I know doing comedy this well is hard work.

“They made Paul Walker finish *his* movie.”

Like I said, there are days I don’t think we deserve Josh Carson, but I’m awfully glad he’s here.  Also, that scene between him and his wife…

5 Stars - Very Highly Recommended

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