Show description: Les takes a test on Ancestry.com and gets shocking results. Watch him learn about his roots and help solve a decades long mystery. (Adult language) 59 minutes
"Watching the miniseries 'Roots' as a kid kind of screwed me up."
For many years now, it isn't really a proper Fringe for me unless I get to hear Les Kurkendaal-Barrett spin a tale from his colorful life. So I made sure that Les' latest offering Climbing My Family Tree was part of my first day's viewing over on the Digital Hub part of the Virtual Fringe. I scheduled a viewing over the dinner hour, prior to the first live shows on opening night. As always, Les didn't disappoint.
"Wow. I guess racism is stupid, isn't it?"
This time, he was investigating his roots, whether that was meeting his 99 year-old grandfather for
the very first time over the Christmas holiday, or meeting up with newly discovered cousins he was introduced to by Ancestry.com. The structure of this production revolves around the grandfather's confession that he once killed a white man.
"As I looked down this ledger, the same kind we used when I worked in a pet store, I saw that these were the names of people - who were purchased."
The meetings with cousins, and the revelations of all their own genealogy research into the family history, are spaced between the various cliffhangers in the grandfather's story. After all, how does a black man kill a white man in the American South of the 1930s, in front of a crowd of witnesses, get taken away by the sheriff, and then somehow still live to be the 99 year-old man telling Les this story?
"Wait. We're Canadian?!"
Les' performances have always been very sparse, bare bones sort of productions. It's why they travel so well around the Fringe circuit. It's just him and the story he tells so well. In the case of this online pre-recorded performance, Les once again keeps it simple. Just his face, in close up, for the hour. And that's all the man needs. He knows his craft.
"The next African country I'm from is... Sweden?"
I don't want to give too much away. Half the fun of the story, as usual, is its twists and turns. Suffice it to say that some of Les' cousins are quite unexpectedly white. The practice of "passing" if you were a light-skinned black person of a certain era also proves to be a key element in several ways. There's French nobility, there's a lot of story throughout the decades with the vibrant backdrop of New Orleans, and a slaveholder up in Canada with some surprisingly "enlightened" views about blacks having
opportunity for a real education, and to purchase freedom for themselves and their families.
"At Aunt Virginia's funeral, they noticed there was a large group of white men in suits and sunglasses. They were FBI. Turns out Aunt Virginia was one of the founders of the Black Panthers in New Orleans."
You'd think by now that we'd know everything about Les, and the guy wouldn't have any stories left. Thank God I'm always wrong about that.
"When are we gonna learn?"
You should definitely make Climbing My Family Tree part of your Digital Hub viewing schedule during the Virtual Fringe. It's great stuff.
5 stars - Very Highly Recommended