‘Squatter’: A riotous take on youthful rebellion
CARBONDALE The observation that tragedy plus time equals comedy has been attributed to various humorists (Mark Twain, Carol Burnett, Steve Allen, Alan Alda’s character in Woody Allen’s “Crimes and Misdemeanors”). The truth underlying the aphorism was spectacularly illuminated by Aspenite Barry Smith in his second one-man, multimedia performance, “American Squatter,” which had its world premiere Saturday and Sunday nights at Steve’s Guitars in Carbondale.Like “Jesus In Montana: Adventures in a Doomsday Cult” – Smith’s first show, which has played often locally and earned an award at the New York International Fringe Festival – “American Squatter” is ripped from the writer/performer’s own past. There is at least one true element of tragedy in Smith’s life; his mother died, in a car crash, when Smith was 14. But while the death is mentioned, in passing, “American Squatter” focuses on far lesser tragedies: Smith’s remarkable ineptness on a skateboard; his awkwardness with the opposite sex; his stumbling transition from Mississippi hayseed to Southern California teenage skateboard punk to LSD-dropping quasi-hippie.
Threaded through every aspect of Smith’s past is the weightiest, most problematic issue of all – his relationship with his father, Brownie, a customer service representative by day, and a cleaning/tidying/organizing demon by night, on weekends and holidays. In his devotion to cleanliness, Brownie apparently forgot to ensure that the spic-and-span gene was passed down to his son, setting up a decades-long pattern of acting out. The final stage of the father-son drama is Barry living rent-free, purpose-free, and Lysol-free in a squalid London flat.There are several things that distinguish the 41-year-old Smith from your average person with a colorful past. For one, he had the foresight to document seemingly all of his past, and to hang onto every photo, video and audiotape. For another, Smith spent years as a professional A/V guy, experience that allows him to raise the Powerpoint presentation to a comedic art, making innovative use of the projector medium. Finally, Smith (who writes the humor column “Irrelativity” for The Aspen Times) is a riot, combining wry personality with a knack for language.So when Smith begins ranting about his dad’s obsessions, it is not merely words eliciting a sympathetic chuckle. He’s got the video to prove it: Brownie tossing wrapping paper into the trash literally faster than his kids can unwrap the presents; a shot of dad receiving his own gift – an industrial-size jug of cleanser – with a huge grin on his face. The effect is riotous, bust-your-gut laughter.
There is nothing mean about “American Squatter.” Smith himself is as often the butt of his joke as is dad. The evidence shows him as a bleached-blond punk, a tie-dyed acid-head and, in a priceless sequence, a feeble skateboarder (who happened to have built history’s most radical backyard skating apparatus out his back door). And the show concludes not with Smith damning his father, but wrestling with the nature of rebellion and coming to the conclusion that rebelling against authority is just another form of coming under its thumb, and ultimately a useless act.Unless one considers how funny a well-preserved, expertly presented case of young-adult rebellion, seen from a distance of two decades, can be.
Barry Smith will present “American Squatter” on Oct. 20 at the Wheeler Opera House. It will also play this summer at the Montreal Fringe Festival (June 7-17) and the Vancouver Fringe Festival (Sept. 6-16).Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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