City Paper is not for tourists
Remaining Performances (tickets available here):
Sunday, July 12 at 7:15 p.m. Saturday, July 18 at 12 p.m. Sunday, July 19 at 9:45 p.m. Tuesday, July 21 at 6:00 p.m. Saturday, July 25 at 2:45 p.m.
Wombats! Easily distracted K wants to tell you about wombats. And red pandas. And silent German films. And sleeping siamangs. And vertigo. And moonrat vaginas. And sex education movies. And wombats! Exalt in the remarkably unremarkable.
Halfway through Wombat Drool, while dissecting the red panda’s animal family, the zookeeper reminds us that, “Taxonomy is important.” It’s a timely admonition. Capital Fringe is celebrating its 10th festival by recognizing the ten archetypes that have shaped its history with categories including, “The Fringe-Goer,” “The Dreamer,” and “The Warrior.” Yes, it’s a noodly campaign.
While the animal kingdom has a hierarchy of increasingly narrow and mutually exclusive categories, Capital Fringe experience has a looser taxonomy. An individual can own multiple tags (like the blog post you’re reading this on). It’s how recognized Capital Fringe superfan and “The Fringe-Goer” apotheosis, David S. Kessler, who has attended hundreds of festival performances, can also adopt “The Performer” by mounting his own one-man show.
Kessler assumes “K,” a zookeeper modeled after his 39 years as a National Zoo biologist. K abhors the attention heaped upon charismatic megafauna like elephants, tigers, and — don’t get him started — giant pandas. No, he champions the small mammal. Naked mole rats. Red pandas. Moonrats. Yes, wombats.
The program promises that K is an invented character, but his life openly blurs with Kessler’s biography. A subplot about K’s daughter about to leave the nest is fiction, but a story about bonding with an orphaned gibbon was captured almost exactly in a Washington Post profile of Kessler by Fringeworthy contributor Rachel Manteuffel. The animal facts peppered throughout the show are lovingly specific and true.
The naked mole rat, despite its eldritch appearance, is scientifically interesting for its social structure and cancer resistance. The red panda is not only cute but also the one true panda. Moonrats smell so bad they have no natural predators. And the wombat — actually, I’ll forget everything about the wombat. None of its individual peculiarities rise to remembrance. If it were a tween, it would be teased for being a “basic bitch.”
But there’s no such mean-spiritedness in Wombat Drool. Under direction from Jane Beard, Kessler delivers a vigorous and confident performance that, combined with compelling anecdotes, lulls the audience into a constant state of charm. While the subplot with the daughter could have done more to push K toward some kind of personal discovery, it did enough to suggest a larger universe in his life.
But as K says about wombats, “They are what they are. Not what we want them to be.” You can’t see hundreds of Fringe shows like Kessler without learning to love and accept each one for what it is. Kessler himself has made a very good Fringe show. If he didn’t, it would still deserve to be loved. We are all wombats.
See it if: You don’t mind a little fur.
Skip it if: You like your heart small, not your mammals.
Image courtesy of Uncle Funsy Productions