THESE TERRIBLE THINGS (Berserker Residents): 2017 Fringe review

THESE TERRIBLE THINGS used a famous image of a child rescued from a concentration camp asked to draw "home".

For its promotional image, THESE TERRIBLE THINGS used a famous image of a child rescued from a concentration camp asked to draw “home”. “We’re sorry,” says a slide at the beginning of the show. “We’re sorry for so many things.”

I Fucking Dare You (2016), It’s So Learning (2015), The Talkback (2013), and The Giant Squid (2008): The Berserker Residents’ Fringe offerings are among the highlights of every festival. With humor ranging from the silly to the cruel, practiced jokes co-mingling with smart improvisation, the trio (Dave Johnson, Justin Jain, and Bradley K. Wrenn) often focus their attention to the absurdity of the theatrical form itself. This year, the company team up with students from the University of the Arts with a farcical take on an acting workshop.

Five students (Annika Cowley, Tess Fitzpatrick, Christian Flynn, Rudy Schreibner, and Julya van der Sloot) are subjected to the rigors of the fictitious Hillerson Acting System (“it makes the Meisner technique look like two people repeating themselves”). Some of the jokes will pass over non-theater folk, but the idea that human behavior or action can be distilled to the “Four Primary Animals” should amuse anyone familiar with a teaching system or pop-philosophy. To demonstrate the technique, the students (who equip themselves well among the professionals) enact scenes from faux-famous plays: Cancer (about the complex relationship between two sisters… “and cancer”), the great American classic Fuckstick, and William Shakespeare’s always-relevant How To Ride A Lady.

The latter, a spoof of the wife-summoning contest in Taming of the Shrew, provokes one of several opportunities for sexist HAI-splaining following a post-show discussion which echoes Berserker’s Talkback show. We lose some of the fast-paced comedy as the piece devolves into utter absurdity, ending on a peculiarly moving note. The Berserker Residents may parody the conventions of theater, but they clearly believe in its power.

[Caplan Studio Theater, 211 S. Broad Street, 16th Floor] September 14-23, 2017;

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About the author

Christopher Munden

Your faithful correspondent and publisher Christopher Munden has written and edited for many publications, websites, and cultural institutions. He was an editor/publisher of the Philly Fiction book series, collections of short stories written by local writers and set in Philadelphia. He's also a soccer coach and a pretty good skier.