Dallas — Everybody knows a sick fuck: somebody so twisted and relentlessly miserable, mentally or physically, he just can’t shut up about it. Odds are, however, that the disturbed, self-centered bastard you know is nowhere near as physically and emotionally seductive, comic and repellent as uber-actor Joey Folsom, the embodiment of the nameless man in Sick Fuck. Paul Shoulberg’s one-man play, first performed in 2011 at Cleveland Public Theatre Big (BOX) Festival, weaves stand-up comedy, performance art and group therapy outbursts into a 50-minute rant out of the mouth of a wired-up, sex-obsessed liar and philanderer dying from “ball cancer.” Compelling in its darkly comic revelations, but not for the f-word faint-hearted or potty-mouth averse.
Upstart Productions Artistic Director David Denson directs the company’s entry in the 17th annual Festival of Independent Theaters at the Bath House Cultural Center at White Rock Lake. Following a lyrical, gently melancholic tale of a circus family (Circus Freaks), Sick Fuck is particularly jarring in its assault-style comedy. Standing at a mike on an empty stage, except for the props left from the previous show, a tightly wound Folsom opens with a shower of angry obscenities, and the man’s honest admission that he is a liar who betrayed the only girl who ever loved him despite his aberrations. And slept with all her friends. So there.
Fascinating in its shifting attitude toward the audience, the play not only removes the fourth wall, but sometimes the performer makes deliberate eye contact with specific audience members, bragging about his bold honesty and sexual feats. He taunts everybody for the lies they tell themselves about loving their mates, when the truth is most people are just resigned to what they can get. “You tricked yourself into cherishing the girl you can get,” he snorts in contempt. He’s looking for a squirm—and gets it.
Folsom is riveting, even when the character he’s playing is revolting. Whip-thin and wide eyes flashing, his bitter, witty antagonist rolls out a series of confessions and recollections, sometimes hilarious in the telling, sometimes painfully dark. His eyes redden and fill with tears of remorse in recalling a rueful moment; then instantly he tosses the sentiment aside and quips about his great hair. He strips to the waist, puffing up his narrow chest in a touching bit of male bravado; and looking instantly, pitifully vulnerable. He works himself up into a sweating rage of angst and regret and stomps off the stage, leaving us in the lurch, as he does his women. Plenty of time to get the hell away from this maniac. Nobody left early on opening night.
What happens when this sicko returns is for every audience to discover. Maybe what we really discover in watching an extraordinary actor portray a satirical, deeply physical and terrified man face his past and death by cancer is another reminder that the difference in comic mask and the tragic muse are in the setting of the mouth. Folsom puts it on and takes it off at manic speed. Take a stopwatch. Prepare to laugh, cry, or get pissed. Maybe all three.
» Sick Fuck continues in the following following blocks:
- 5 p.m. Saturday, July 25
- 2 p.m. Sunday, July 26
- 8 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 1
» Click here to read our interview with director David Denson
» Click here to go to our special section devoted to the Festival of Independent Theatres. You'll find a schedule, interviews, reviews and more.