The Slant Culture Theatre Festival was this past week at the Walden Theater, and I was invited to see one of the closing shows "Shut UP!" on Sunday. I didn't really know what to expect; I'd only been told it was a one-man show by Justin Dobring.
As I found a seat in the black box theater, I noticed a bizarre looking tree in the middle of the room. It was more of a pillar, covered in brown cloth, with two branches sticking off the top of it. One of the branches had a wolf mask hanging on it.
The show began with live music from The Louisville Dixie Land Band, who was hidden behind a wall. Their lively introduction music made for a great entry from Justin Dobring in character as J.D. Pryor...until he had trouble zipping his jacket. The music ended and he had them start again, trying several times to make a successful entry and jacket zip. He finally asked for just a bar of music and mimed zipping his jacket while assuming a heroic and dignified pose. It was a great start.
He then began to invite people into his forest, where they might find transformation. What followed was a hilarious and energetic trail of chaos and ridiculousness as he tried to teach you to be a better version of yourself with his story and three rules: shut up; create something; and "that's what I'm talking about". By the end of the evening he imparted the wisdom of the cycle. Shut your mind up, create, celebrate in what you have created and repeat.
Dobring portrayed several characters: JD Pryor, a failed abortion tossed by his mother from her brothel outside Yellowstone Park, nourished by snow and then raised by wolves until he made the mistake of standing on two legs; the wolf mother, who smokes cigarettes and is hunting JD after being exiled by the clan for refusing to kill him; and Rye Pryor, a homeless drunk who takes JD in and raises him. He masterfully switched between characters, telling the story of how he grew up and how he found his own life's redemption. His writing was downright silly, and his high energy performance let the audience beyond the fourth wall just enough to keep them laughing no matter what. The few props involved sound pretty bizarre when listed alone (a jacket, red balloons, a bottle of "rye whisky", a jock strap, one half of a saxophone, fake blood, a severed hand, an audience member's scarf, a wolf mask, and a fake cigarette) but he incorporated them into the tapestry of comedy like a master weaver.
Dobring really seems to have mastered what I think is the golden rule of comedy. He kept the laughter rolling the entire time with very silly antics and ridiculous use of props but left the audience with something serious to think about. His interaction with the Dixie Land Band added a depth to the show that I feel would have been absent without them. I can't imagine the show without the live sounds. Rachael Dobring did a really fantastic job directing this juggling act. This is a show I'd love to see again with friends.