Tweet Review: #NightlyFringe outing #8 for virtual #mnfringe 2020: On The Concept of Irony (With No Reference to Socrates); as both writer and storyteller @maxverbosity's phillip andrew bennett low is mind-boggling in all the best ways; log on and surrender - 5 stars
Show description: What happens when human folly runs face-first into apocalypse? Stolen placentas, political genies, sad puppies, Elder Gods, cryogenically frozen comedians...welcome to this election year's grotesque anthology of comic horror, with no mention whatsoever of a certain ancient Greek philosopher. (Warnings: Abuse/Physical violence, Adult language, Crude humor, Drug content, Gun/Weapon usage, Loud noises, Mental illness, Sexual content, Sexual violence, Violence) 60 minutes
Much like the stories of Les Kurkendaal-Barrett have become an essential part of my annual Minnesota Fringe Festival experience, so, too, are the stories of Maximum Verbosity's phillip andrew bennett low. The storytelling styles of the two men couldn't be more different, but the artistic development of both has been nurtured by the Fringe over years of creating in that theater community incubator. phillip chronicled this growth in a recent Maximum Verbosity retrospective that he staged online as a fundraiser for the Fringe. On The Concept of Irony (With No Reference to Socrates) is the latest step in that creative journey and watch that step, 'cause it's a doozy.
"'Daddy!' she said, unphased by his lack of pants."
On The Concept of Irony (and wow, did that title hit me hard when I stopped to think about it after seeing the show) consists of four stories performed by low:
Womb With A View (a parody title which is also a tip of the hat to his former Fringe blog at the Twin Cities Daily Planet) - in which a private detective is hired by an embarrassed hospital to track down an employee who may be stealing placentas
"We prefer our medicine to have a bit more... well, medicine."
The Yip of Cthulhu - in which a young man's forbidden research leads him to try and raise an evil monster from the depths of the ocean, his story alternating with entries from the journal of his dog
"Like God, only evil."
That Touch Thingy - in which an angel tries doing a "reverse Job," instead of taking everything from a good man, he gives everything to a wicked man, which ends up putting an amoral moron in the White House (any resemblance to current persons is surely coincidental, although the moron President is really into McDonald's and his own daughter, so...)
"That's not how moral education is supposed to work - or math, for that matter."
The Sleeper, Woke - after the revolution, in a better world born out of much suffering, a man from the past who was cryogenically frozen is accidentally revived; with a memory of how the previous dystopian society worked (and could work again), people may wish he'd stayed asleep
"A handful of people living in a place, in a time, when they can change the world forever."
phillip performs all these stories with his usual rapid-fire aplomb, torrents of words spilling out of his mouth till the audience is almost dizzy from the input of so much language into their brains. But what a treat to be asked to think, and think quickly, about how you feel about any of the characters in these situations. low doesn't spoonfeed the audience a particular point of view as he recounts the stories. You have to make up your own mind as to how off-kilter you think some of these people's moral centers are and who, if anyone, you're rooting for in these scenarios. Womb and Yip are both good, old-fashioned first person narratives, while Touch and Sleeper are more third person tales. low also doesn't feed you every little detail. The audience needs to piece these worlds and characters together from a series of context clues that is just enough to help you create a picture, almost in partnership with the storyteller. It's incredibly engaging listening to be challenged throughout in small ways like this.
"Paper makes Master sad."
low has also moved into the clever inclusion of multimedia, moving and shifting digital backdrops set the stage and morph with the needs of the flow of the story, engaging the eye while the performer engages the ear. It's not too slick, just slick enough, just rough enough around the edges to feel Fringey and not antiseptic. Horrible things happen in all four stories, but mostly they're ridiculous horrible things, so a very dark vein of comedy rules the overall feel of the performance. You're more likely to roll your eyes than avert them, and I mean that in a good way. The humor takes the edge off things that would be a bit too dark otherwise (and not all humor needs to be high brow, does it?). low knows how to tell a story the listener is still willing to hear, all the while gently leading them ever closer to the edge.
"Against all the wisdom acquired in my life thus far, I'm going to investigate."
Not for the faint of heart (it's got all those content warnings for a reason), but if you want to see some of the best storytelling on display in the Fringe, this year or any year, you really need to check out Maximum Verbosity.
"Thank you for supporting live theater, such as it is..."
On The Concept of Irony (With No Reference to Socrates) has three more live performances scheduled on the Digital Hub of the Virtual Fringe - Tues 8/4 at 8:30pm, Fri 8/7 at 8:30pm and Sat 8/8 at 8:30pm.
5 stars - Very Highly Recommended