August 3, 4, 5, 6, 9 and 10, 2013
Confessional monologues are a mainstay of Fringe Festivals. Take one actor, have him or her talk about their embarrassing childhood/breakup/weird job/sexual awakening and add in three parts humour, two parts revelation and a dash of inspiration and there you have it, perfect Fringe fodder. Don’t get me wrong, these type of personal shows, when done right, are some of my favorite experiences at the festival. I find it tremendously interesting and extremely brave for a performer to go onstage and splay their private experiences open for us to be entertained by. But it’s one thing to reveal that you were a geek as a kid or that you had your heart-broken by a first love and it’s another thing altogether to build a play around the fact that you have a mental illness that makes you think about raping or murdering people and that you are regularly in the throes of delusional possession. Talk about wounds laid bare for all to see and judge!
But what makes Andrew Bailey’s show Limbo so compelling is that way before we could ever form judgement on his strange affliction, he pulls the rug out from under us by being a harsher critic of himself than we ever could be. He knows his feelings and impulses and worries are detrimental and he suffers from that knowledge just as much as he suffers from the nefarious thoughts that obsess him. All we’re left to do is watch with sympathy and curiosity and hope that he finds his way.
The show begins the day after Andrew, at age 13, decides not to kill himself thanks to caring parents that listen and find him the help he needs. We meet his psychiatrist, an ex-hippie laid back sort who assures Andrew that these “bad” thoughts he’s having are just thoughts and that because he doesn’t and would never act on them, he shouldn’t obsess about it. Yeah, right. Instead, Andrew not only fixates on these issues endlessly, but he turns to God for help believing that it was a holy power that caused him not to kill himself in the first place. In a kind of tit for tat deal, Andrew promises to make his ‘saved’ life religiously meaningful as payback for the second chance. But no matter how devoted his life becomes or how good his deeds are, Andrew can’t run away from the demons that threaten to pull him under into total madness.
It’s a heartbreaking process to watch that is beautifully delivered by Bailey on stage. Also beautifully done are the moments of levity he injects into the script so that the audience gets some much-needed breathing room to laugh with and at his character. Particularly effective are his ‘time outs’ where he speaks directly to the audience in a traditional aside format letting them in on things and cracking jokes. For example, he tells us that his reference to David Bowie’s music as the mental backdrop for his possessions as a way of making them less scary for us. It works by the way. Once the audience knows what it’s dealing with in Andrew’s condition, we move beyond freaked out or frightened and instead start to root for the guy hoping that this all comes to some kind of positive finish.
I won’t ruin the end for you expect to say that it’s a perfectly imperfect conclusion that muses on suffering, belief and compassion in a way that I was very moved by. This is a brave show by a brave actor that will make you grateful and thoughtful and more understanding human beings. How many Fringe shows can claim that?
For Fringeaholics – Getting serious at a Fringe Fest is hard work with all of the comedies and cabarets and imrov offerings out there. But this one is worth putting away the volume-10 laugh meter in order to take in the pleasure of an honest and difficult story told with courage and charm and yes, even humour. SEE IT
For light Fringers – Fringes are about seeing unusual shows with great performers. This is certainly one of them. It’s one of those shows that will stay with you long after the comedies you seen have faded from memory. SEE IT