REVIEW: The Ballad of Frank Allen | Asian Ghost-ery Store

Summer Nights has ended on a high note for Perth Arts Live as we review two laugh-out-loud comedies finishing up in this weekend’s final fringe festivities: Weeping Spoon Productions‘ The Ballad of Frank Allen and Only the Human’s Asian Ghost-ery Store.

 

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The Ballad of Frank Allen | Weeping Spoon Productions

Oh for the love of beards. Beards beards beards. Everywhere you turn these days you see beards. And now this. A comedy about a little man living in another man’s beard. WHAT?!

Talk about zeitgeisty. Writer/director/performer Shane Adamczak’s meta-hipster romp is a thoroughly ridiculous and completely endearing look at love and friendship couched in sci-fi-ish silliness. He’s teamed up with the magnificently-bearded St John Cowcher for this buddy comedy with a twist, and together they sing, dance and shave their way to comedy gold. (Simulated shaving only, no beards were harmed in the making of this show.)

Adamczak is a science lab janitor, Frank Allen, who lives an orderly life until one day, he puts in earphones while he’s cleaning a super secret shrinking machine, so he doesn’t hear the boops, beeps and warnings go off as the machine begins to activate. The shrinking device is voiced by the unmistakable Jo Morris, who could definitely have a sideline in voicing computers (she recently featured as the computer in Second Chance Theatre’s Between Solar Systems).

He gets shrunk and ends up in Al Lafrance’s (Cowcher) beard. Don’t ask me how. It’s doesn’t matter. There are many things you just have to run with when watching Frank Allen, and Adamczak and Cowcher make sure we’re all in on the jokes. There may be healthy amount of ad libbing here, and the guys are very aware of how to play for laughs, but they don’t have to try hard to get them.

Adamczak pulls out handful of silly characters, while Cowcher plays the straight guy who’s constantly, unwittingly manipulated by the little man that lives in his beard. Allen is grooming (forgive the pun, please) Lafrance to be a better man, to grow up, take responsibility, do less dumb stuff, better maintain a relationship. There is plenty of music in the show, with some classics (“Fire and Rain” by James Taylor) and a few originals, the highlight being an Irish drinking song about a cheating girlfriend, complete with the requisite sex jokes.

This is an easy-to-love comedy that is heading over to Adelaide Fringe next week, so hopefully there are plenty of beard-loving Fringe-goers over there too, who will find it just as charming as Perth audiences have.

 

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Asian Ghost-ery Store | Only the Human

Wonderful! I found out I’ve been missing out on yet another fairly new troupe of indie performers in Perth: Only The Human. They’ve been Facebook official since August of 2014 and have been haunting Lazy Susan’s, The Velvet Lounge and Melbourne Fringe, and apparently used to go by the name Oh The Humanity. Some of their members have gone over to Chicago to get some improv training, including the two stars of this neat little mixed-heritage comedy Asian Ghost-ery Store.

Shannan Lim and Vidya Rajan are Asian-Australian, Lim with roots in Singapore and Rajan with roots in India. They’re catching up over packets of Hello Panda at the top of the show. Things start out a little shaky. Their conversation is stilted and awkward, and Lim answers Rajan with irritating smacking noises prior to speaking. Ouch my misophonia. I was starting to feel sorry for them both, they looked so uneasy up there, spoke so mildly; I thought we were in for a long hour.

But it was a TRICK! These two are anything but uneasy OR mild, but I had no idea of that when they began. They decided to do the opposite of what most people writing Fringe shows do: instead of coming out swinging from the top of the show, putting all their good jokes in the first five minutes, they turned the heat up slowly. By the end, they were on fire.

Lim and Rajan touch on just about every Asian stereotype out there, but do it in a very refreshing way by picking apart how the comedy world approaches racial stereotypes. They make observations about how the media treats migrants’ back-stories, and they claim that they want to avoid the typical “pain, suffering, confusion” myth that usually comes with the territory. However, they do end up reluctantly entering that territory, and offer some keen insights into their personal experiences as Asian-Australians.

Lim does a send-up of his own mum, who believes that coconuts are the basis for just about everything in life, and Rajan gets to live her fantasy of playing in a BBC period drama, though even she can’t go through with it because reality and revisionist history keeps getting in the way. They argue about which race gets to take credit for inventing or discovering things. They exchange stories about dating and sex where race is a confusing factor in relationships.

They are an absolute delight with plenty of unlikely chemistry; Lim is a very physical performer whose sense of humour and timing catches us off guard, while Rajan is cerebral and quick-witted and a little bit feisty. They make a wonderful pair, and I could see their shtick going gangbusters in other media, like a podcast or web series. It seems there’s an absolute gold mine in their brains, and they have the savvy and subtlety to tread the minefield of race without getting too badly hurt or hurting anyone else.

So, I repeat: Wonderful! And I hope we can look forward to more from Only the Human and its eclectic band of diverse humans, telling stories that reflect Australia’s multicultural society.

 

CICELY BINFORD

Both shows run until 20 Feb, the last night of Summer Nights! For more information, visit the Blue Room website here.

 

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