The tenth annual FRIGID Festival continues apace in New York City's East Village, and in our second of two dispatches from it, we discuss comedies by three solo performers, whose exploits take the audience to places including Canada's "best city," a Mormon mission to Argentina, and one of the least relaxing mudbaths ever. We are touching on only a fraction of the 30 shows in this year's festival, but more information can be found on the FRIGID New York website, where there is also a deal available that gets you into three shows for just $30. FRIGID is proud to be the only NYC festival that gives all proceeds for ticket sales to the actors and creative team behind each show. The show with the highest box office will receive an encore performance at the end of the festival, and audiences are encouraged to vote for their favorite shows.
When Zoe Daniels's Don't Move to Toronto opens, she and her Lindsey Buckingham-esque boyfriend share a perfect love, an appreciation of Fleetwood Mac, and, in short order, an amazing apartment in Toronto. As the play’s title suggests, at least one of these will cease to be the case. Detailing her experiences with a deeply problematic neighbor, shady Craigslist jobs, and why she hates Germany, Daniels grounds major moments in music, from the aforementioned Fleetwood Mac-recording-Rumours and Tom Waits by way of Bette Midler to Robyn and Neko Case, and the play itself could be seen as something like a break-up song itself. Even at its most self-reflective, though, the show never loses sight of the humor at its center. And this is a funny show. Daniels excels at embroidering her narrative with character details, whether she is bringing to life her boyfriend and his partly open shirt, her small-dog-crossed-with-Real-Housewife manager, or her pale, uncommunicative German Airbnb hostess. She is an animated and expressive performer, easily charming the audience, and she brings a lot of physicality to her comedy. Don't Move to Toronto is probably the most fun hour-long meditation on a break-up that you could have. And Daniels assures us that she is totally over that guy.
Ben Abbot’s The BYU/Berkeley Plot also features some slightly younger young love, between college freshmen rather than Toronto's mid-twenties couple. Coming from a large Mormon family in California, Abbot’s younger self never questions that he will attend Brigham Young University in Utah, and he feels immediately at home when he arrives. While there, he befriends Sergio, a European atheist, and meets his Canadian first love, a relationship that he must put on hiatus to go on a South American mission. When he returns from Argentina after two years (and a nasty infection), things have changed, and he ends up moving back home, a course that eventually leads him to liberal enclave UC Berkeley, the freewheeling antithesis of buttoned-up BYU. There, his work in a theater program steeped in Foucault and Pinter provides him a concentrated immersion in the culture of free speech, protest, and boundary-pushing inquiry that is Berkeley's heritage. At a chance encounter with Sergio, he learns that his friend has developed an elaborate conspiracy theory in which BYU and Berkeley are working together in secret. Suffice to say, it involves Mormon assassins and aliens using quantum entanglement on crystal balls (if you want more details, you'll just have to see the show).
Abbot lends an added charge to his comedy with the energy that he exudes as a performer, and he makes effective, and funny, use of slideshow images, even giving the audience some condensed history lessons. While BYU/Berkeley mines comedy from differences between the two title schools and their cultures, in the end, through Sergio's outlandish theory, it makes the point that the two schools and their populations have more in common than one might think. Early on, Abbott asserts that you can’t understand either without understanding both, and BYU/Berkeley makes an excellent and entertaining argument for understanding and engagement instead of preconceptions.
Clenched, like the two shows discussed above, transforms its narrator’s experiences into comedy, but it uses its central thread of personal anecdotes as a place from which to take various political detours. Writer and performer David Mogolov tells the audience early on that he possesses a punk ethos; for example, he loves watching the plans of important people fall apart, and in Clenched, he entertainingly exposes and critiques the inner workings of those plans. Pain, swelling, and an infection lead Mogolov to medical professionals and to a diagnosis that includes TMJ, a disorder of the joints of the jaw that can be caused by jaw-clenching and teeth-grinding. This further leads to various recommendations on how to relax and to sleep better, seemingly impossible goals for someone whose natural state is, to use his term, "clenchedness."
As Mogolov's intricately composed production progresses through his quest to deal with these medical recommendations, it organically interweaves this individual problem with incisive social commentary. An early joke about not caring about fonts even though he works for a design group, for example, connects later to a discussion of how design can work for good or evil. He deconstructs, in turn and along with his own high-school football experiences, how the NFL carefully engineers its product to make it inextricable from and inescapable in American culture. In another instance, he outlines how a different font can render what is written in it more or less believable to a reader. The production also asks some larger questions about how useful clenchedness as a defensive posture is, and whether epiphanies, which we usually expect in this type of show, can actually happen. Well-written, with a great facility with language and turns of phrase, and well-performed, Clenched is sharp, stimulating satire that is both smart and laugh-out-loud funny. - Leah Richards & John Ziegler