Dallas — The YOLO Solo Festival is currently happening at the Margo Jones Theatre, performed around the current Audacity Theatre Lab production of The Last Castrato, starring Jeff Swearingen. Presented by Audacity and curated by Elaine Liner, the eight short plays of YOLO (the common hashtag meaning "you only live once") are each 30 minutes or shorter—and for press, cleverly came with selfies of each playwright. Here are our reviews of six of the eight shows. Regrettably, we missed Andi Allen's Melva Tosti Attends Career Day and Bruce R. Coleman's The Elephant in the Room, and hope they are performed at some other point. (Audacity is producing the Dallas Solo Fest later this spring, so perhaps we'll see them again.)
I Brought Home a Chupacabra
Written by Brad McEntire | Directed by Ruth Engel-McEntire | Performed by Lauren Moore
It’s a common enough story. A person comes across a stray animal and decides to give it a good home. It’s a particularly sweet story...typically. But, what if that stray animal is none other than the pseudo-mythical beast, the chupacabra? That’s actress Lauren Moore’s conundrum in Brad McEntire’s hilarious dark comedy I Brought Home A Chupacabra.
Moore tells the story of going on a hiking trip with the boyfriend she’s consistently drifting away from, both emotionally and physically as he bounds ahead of her on the path. Then, off in the brush, she hears a purring sound. She investigates and finds the legendary goat-sucker, known as the chupacabra.
Moore’s reaction is not fright or disgust, but rather similar to how someone might react to finding a baby bulldog. Essentially, “D’aaaawww!” She takes the beast home with her and sets it up in her laundry room. All seems well...
Until, of course, her and her boyfriend are awakened one night to “Chupy” sucking on the boyfriend’s leg. This doesn’t end well for the relationship, but ends up bringing Moore and her demonic looking pet closer together.
McEntire has a knack for taking the everyday and introducing an element of fantasy that makes it an almost absurd situational comedy, and Chupacabra is no different. The writing is really top-notch.
But, great comedic writing requires a great performer who “gets it” to be successful. And Moore is equal to the task. He sense of timing and pacing makes for a lot of laughs, even as Chupy is randomly attacking animals and people. Her ability to keep the tone light-hearted—practically oblivious to the horror—is a major feather in both her cap and the show’s.
Taking the “what if” game to its extreme is a fun activity, and no one is better than McEntire at it. Taking home a chupacabra is everything you’d expect: horrific yet, so darn cute, cuddly and viciously funny.
Written and performed by Danny O'Connor
Don’t worry about getting thrown out of this raucous party because the bouncer is the star of the show. In Bouncing Ugly, Danny O’Connor recounts his time working at the famous Ugly Coyote Saloon in New York City, leaving a trail a side-splitting laughter in his formidable wake.
Danny’s story is interesting not because he was once a bouncer at Coyote Ugly, the bar made famous by the not-so-good Piper Perabo movie, but because his stint at the saloon serves as a window into his life.
Having graduated from a prestigious acting program, and immediately landing a great job, O’Connor thought he was well on his way to stardom. But a life in the arts can be a hard one full of ups and downs, and things eventually got tough for him. Working at the dingy bar on the Lower East Side was part of his attempt to hold on to the dream. And that becomes the real focus of his performance.
Having so much passion for something that you’re willing to clean actual human fundament off the bathroom floor is something that few people ever realize in their lives. And it’s this connection that makes O’Connor’s piece really great.
Well, that and the fact that it is seriously one of the funniest hours of storytelling ever. No kidding. O’Connor has funny stories in general, but he also has the ability to tell them well. Being a good storyteller is a rare gift, often not fully understood by the average person since we all tell stories all the time. But, the people who are truly talented storytellers, like O’Connor, have a way of holding an audience’s attention and feeling the energy of the room to deliver perfectly timed lines and beats that simply can’t be taught.
The old cliché goes that the bartenders always have the most interesting stories. But, O’Connor shows that bouncers might just have them beat, physically or otherwise.
Written by Benjamin Schroth | Directed by Scott Milligan | Performed by Betty Milligan
Tyler is in his room. Or maybe under the table. Or maybe lost in the mind of an eccentric woman. Any and all options are a possibility in Ben Schroth’s absurd Tyler’s Mom.
Betty Milligan plays the eponymous character, garishly dressed in bright pajamas and accompanying robe. She wanders around looking for the aforementioned Tyler to no avail. This is no matter to his Tyler’s mom as she believes that he can hear her regardless of his ultimate location. And with that, she embarks on musings about Tyler’s life, and her own. Her ramblings elicit plenty of laughter as Schroth employs his unique absurdist style.
Milligan’s delivery borders on monotonous, as if she’s performed this script with her hidden son a million times before. And yet, there is life to her. There’s a mysterious vibrance that could either indicate all is normal and this is just a woman talking at her son somewhere in the house, or that she’s completely batty and there is no son.
Ultimately, the piece is a brilliant study in the mundanity of middle class American life; the repetition, the oft-recited script that doesn’t actually require an audience, and the boredom that masks the underlying complexity. Like life itself sometimes, it’s a little unsettling and yet absurdly funny at the same time.
She Always Picked Me
Written and directed by Kate Lowry | Performed by Nick Ware | Assistant direction by Nathaniel Israelson
It’s so common, society has developed a term for it: “Friendzoned.” Something that happens when a heterosexual male and female have a close friendship. Inevitably, one wants more out of the relationship than the other. And thanks to sitcoms and romantic comedy films, it’s darn near a cliché at this point.
Kate Lowry takes on the aftermath of just such a situation in She Always Picked Me.
Though written by a female, the performance itself is from the male perspective, with Nick Ware playing the part of a man who froze up when his best female friend confessed her love to him.
He goes through his angsty thought process about the matter, citing familiar excuses along the lines of they’ve always just been friends, or he’s never looked at her like that, etc.
Far be it for anyone to comment on Lowry’s inspiration for this piece, but it does represent that absolute best case scenario and therefore lacks any real weight. Ware’s characters’ syllogistic thought process never goes beyond surface-level concerns. Not that there’s a lot of time to get into deeper existential commentary.
Bottom line, it’s a fine effort, though rather simple. There are a few laughs, and an ending so sweet they should pass out insulin afterwards. But like so many other romantic comedies, there’s not much but sugar in this little morsel of a performance.
Written and performed by Kennedy Waterman | Directed by Jeff Swearingen
Kennedy Waterman is so allergic to peanuts, she can't even read one of Charles Schultz's famous comic strips without an EpiPen at the ready. Which serves as the basis for her solo performance Allergic Me, a chronicle of her lifelong struggle with a severe nut allergy.
Waterman, who is all of 13 years old, aided by videos and slide shows she made, begins by sharing her first breakout experience. Another kid randomly stuck the filling side of a peanut butter cracker to her face. Random as it may have been, it began her life in fighting exposure to nuts. The allergy is severe, and eventually her family decided to try desensitization with mixed results. So far.
The performance is comprised of Waterman humorously portraying a host of characters from her life, several laugh-out-loud jokes, a few heart-tugging moments, and her uniquely engaging personality binding it all together. It's sharp and fluid; enjoyable from start to finish.
Directed by Jeff Swearingen, with whom Waterman has worked previously with great success at Fun House Theatre and Film, the young performer continues to prove herself extraordinarily talented, on par with any adult actress in the area. She has a comfort onstage that some work a lifetime achieving. And her commitment is unparalleled, especially considering that most kids her age are oozing awkwardness and gawk. Despite her life-threatening allergy, she stands tall with a smile on her face.
As someone who has also dealt with severe allergies, the show really hits close to home.
Allergic Me is a triumphant show both in its subject matter and overall affect. Waterman is a draw with any show she's in, but performing in a piece she herself wrote is even more of a treat. Just make sure that treat doesn't have any peanuts in it.
Written and directed by Natalie Gaupp | Performed by Katherine Anne Weekly | Assistant direction by G. Dean McBride
Translated into English, it means “obstinate.” But, Natalie Gaupp's Ostinato, performed by Katherine Weekley, provides little more in context for this brief, complicated think-piece.
The stage is bare, save for an old microwave on the ground. An audio recording, the poetry of Yeats read in three distinct voices, provides the primary soundtrack. Weekley enters the stage carrying a cardboard box with her. After assessing the scene, she opens the box to reveal several four-packs of microwaveable macaroni and cheese.
What follows is increasingly frantic attempts to prepare and eat the food. As Weekley's character appears challenged in some way, these attempts are futile. An abrupt ending cuts the performance off after just a few minutes.
For Weekley's part, she is fully committed to the demanding performance. For what she is asked to do, she's exceptional.
Though the press materials provide some insight into the context of Gaupp's piece, the festival program does not. And while compelling, it's possible that the performance is a little too abstract to be accessed. But then again, sometimes that's the artist's intention.