Anthony Johnston in TENDERPITS.
BOTTOM LINE: A more adventurous take on the solo show format, this whacked-out "true story" will confuse the hell out of you, but luckily not without amusing you as well.
Tenderpits is a show about a young man’s (literal and metaphorical) journey, so it’s only appropriate that after playing in New York City (downtown at UNDER St Marks and uptown at 59E59 Theatres), it’s crossing the ocean to hit the Edinburgh Fringe. This dizzying mix of autobiography, fantasy, stagecraft and video art is performed by Anthony Johnston and directed by Nathan Schwartz, old friends who both hail from Canada. At first, one fears their familiarity has resulted in an impenetrable series of random scenes, written in a code only they understand; however, after a disorienting fifteen minutes or so, a story begins to emerge. It’s the story, guaranteed “100% half true” by Johnston, of an optimistic actor (who also claims to be a wizard) who is carried from rural Canada to New York City on the back of a drunken moose; once there, he goes on inappropriate auditions, posts racy personal ads, and works in a restaurant where he befriends the largely Mexican kitchen staff, whom he identifies with as “fellow immigrants.”
Tenderpits takes what could be a hackneyed plot — actor comes to New York, struggles, makes mistakes, finds his joy again — and, through wild inventions and truly bizarre execution, creates something more challenging and chaotic. For example, Johnston performs most of the show wearing nothing more than a diaper; in the opening scene, he performs opposite a pair of stuffed animals; and at two critical moments, he is guided by the sage advice of an unusually eloquent parrot. Johnston addresses the audience throughout, sometimes even asking for money or a potential mate (he needs a green card); he also describes and enacts moments from his sex life, making this an adults-only evening. Though the tone is mostly broadly comedic, there are moments of real emotion here as well, concerning the deaths of members of Johnston’s family and his own serious accident on a New York sidewalk. Johnston may not really be a wizard, but his charm and skills as a storyteller keep us engaged in an experience whose innovations might be more alienating than thought-provoking in less capable hands.
(Tenderpits plays at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, at Underbelly, 56 Cowgate, through August 26, 2012. Performances are August 3rd through 26th at 9:30PM - no show on Aug. 13th. Tickets are £ 8.50 - £ 10.50 with 2-for-1 on Aug. 6th and 7th, and are available at edfringe.com.)