Photos courtesy of Shaela Cook.
A man dies, his childhood friends come to mourn him. When young they seemed innocent, idiosyncratic, and wise beyond their years. Adults now, at an occasion where bad behavior is almost expected, they've spun off on their respective orbits. They're neither innocent nor funny; as it turns out, the only one wise beyond his years was the one who died. Though it's a common tale, it's not an anonymous one. The characters are modeled on "Peanuts" characters and the dead man is a thinly-veiled good ol' Charlie Brown.
With irreproachable execution and insight, the absolutely stupendous Absolutely Filthy, written by Brendan Hunt, directed by Jeremy Aldridge, and staged at Theatre Asylum, suggests that adults shouldn't romanticize childhood because, as the production trumpets loud and clear, kids in retrospect are really embryonic dysfunctional adults.
It's the Mess's story. Yes, that would be the character otherwise known as Pigpen (Hunt). Inside the church, outside the church, he best epitomizes how the traits that seemed so adorable in childhood have come to haunt or otherwise define his erstwhile friends as adults. Everyone's got baggage; though he's homeless, he seems to have the most.
It's billed as a comedy. Besides winning the "Top" of the Hollywood Fringe Festival, it was also voted "Best in Comedy." Sure it's funny; parts of it are hilarious. The whole way Hunt cleverly side steps possible legal action (So, Disney's not the only one...) by calling Sallie the Bereaved (Shannon Nelson), Lucy the Big Sister (Carrie Keransen), Linus the Little Brother (Robbie Winston), Schroeder the Pop Star (Jacob Sidney), Marcie -- Call me Marcia!) -- the Ophthalmologist (Jaime Andrews), Franklin his Honor (KJ Middlebrooks), Peppermint Patty the Designer (Rachel Germaine), Charlie Brown the Deceased (Scott Golden), and Snoopy the Hundin (Jessica Sherman).
The once tomboy Designer is now a snooty fashion maven. Dapper, all grown up, The Big Brother still has his security blanket, in the form of a handkerchief neatly folded in his suit's breast pocket. A fiendishly successful network executive, Big Sister is a venomous, smartphone-riveted asshole. The Mess is still a mess but his problems are not just hygienic (and his tornado of dirt is brilliantly conveyed with an ever-moving hula hoop; even sitting in a car the hula hoop moves with the help of two shadowed figures). Though he's now a judge, no one yet remembers Franklin's name. The Deceased died of adult onset encephalitis, which makes you wonder if his nickname, Blockhead, and the whacks to his head he suffered each time Lucy pulled away the football he was about to kick had anything to do with his demise.
But their idiosyncrasies are no longer cute. Having grown up, each of the characters brings these idiosyncrasies (read: flaws) into adulthood. The only one for whom everyone has a kind word, ironically, is the Deceased; and it's not just because he's, well, deceased but because, having become a child psychologist (a perfect career choice, considering) he actually did something positive with the ill treatment he received as a child.
The ensemble performances were stellar. It's easy to see why Hunt was voted Best Performance for Spirit of the Fringe. In every possible way - voice, gesture, movement, and, somehow, eyes -- he was suitably demented, the kind of person you see on Hollywood Boulevard, colorful, to be sure; but also deeply troubled. His tragedy was in knowing the whys and wherefores of his flaws but, having self-medicated over the years, being unable to do anything about it. He's the kind of guy that would give you a definite first impression but who, if you could bear the scent, the sight, and the vermin, you'd realize he too was once a kid.
Watching him and the others, you marvel not just at the keen performances before you while, at the same time, you compare them to the Charles M. Schulz characters you grew up with in the funny papers and on the TV as well with those you know now in your day job.
See it (and hurry -- this is the last weekend) for the concept, the plot, the characters and the performances. Perhaps you'll look a little differently at that asshole boss, that insecure Rock Star, and the judge who presides over your DUI. You may not like them any better but, as this production so exquisitely shows, perhaps you'll appreciate how, as Julie Andrews once sang "Nothing comes from nothing, nothing ever could..."
Performances are 8pm Friday & Saturday, August 16 & 17, and 7m Sunday, August 18. The show runs through August 18. Tickets are $18. The Theatre is located at 6320 Santa Monica Boulevard, Hollywood. For more information please visit the Hollywood Fringe website.