Fringe Festival

Rednecks beyond the infinite, spiritual questions in the inner city

Updated: 2013-07-20T04:59:27Z

Redneck humor is a genre that simply won’t go away, but it can still get laughs if the approach is inventive enough.

Forrest Attaway, well-known as an actor in Kansas City, is also a playwright. For this year’s Fringe Festival he offers us a crazed farce aptly titled “Outta Beer and Outta Space.” Just to keep things interesting, Attaway solicits random words from the audience at the beginning of each performance. The words are written down and the actors are obliged to work them into the script.

At the show’s first performance Friday the results were hilarious as we watched the performers find opportunities to insert “cantankerous,” “Grandpa,” “Narnia,” “throbbing” and “goggles” into a deliriously irreverent tale of a couple of good ole East Texas boys abducted by aliens while making a beer run.

Jed (Nick Uthoff) and Earl (Phillip Russell Newman) never make it to the beer store and find themselves in what Jed perceives as a fancy drunk tank. An alien with the glib demeanor of a game show host (Matt Leonard), after making them answer questions in a quiz format, explains that humanity has been destroyed and they must now re-populate the planet. Just how that is accomplished is one of the play’s key jokes. Suffice it to say that Melissa Fennewald plays a major supporting role late in the show.

Newman and Uthoff are an inherently amusing Mutt-and-Jeff team visually and they work well together. Katie Gilchrist directs this over-the-top comedy with brevity and wit and gets some great timing from her actors.

In “Wiccans in the Hood” playwright Michelle T. Johnson creates an inventive, offbeat story about a group of people who insist they aren’t wiccans but nonetheless convene for weekly nocturnal religious rituals in a cemetery in an African-American neighborhood.

The play, directed by Harvey Williams, occasionally comes to life in bursts of humor. In other moments Johnson takes us down a serious dramatic road. But the various elements never seem to mesh in a satisfying whole. Race becomes an issue initially because none of the celebrants are African American. Their ceremonies seem directed towards improving work situations for some of them as opposed to authentic spiritual enlightenment, which brings their sincerity into question.

Veteran actress Lynn King anchors the production as Diamond, a neighborhood resident whose mother is dying of cancer, and the most satisfying section of the play is a dramatic scene between King and Jose Faust, a poet making his acting debut as Gabriel, the group’s spiritual leader. Faust demonstrates quiet intensity and low-key charisma and looks utterly relaxed on stage.

The supporting players -- Brie Henderson, Victor Hentzen and Nicole Santorella — each have nice moments, but the varying levels of experience and ability lead to a kaledescope of acting styles. The actors never quite get on the same page.

To reach Robert Trussell, theater critic, call 816-234-4765 or send email to rtrussell@kcstar.com.

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