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Fort Fringe “The Bedroom”
Tuesday, July 16, 7 p.m. Thursday, July 18, 10 p.m. Saturday, July 20, 2 p.m.
They say: “How to build a fire. How to treat shock. How to deal with piss in a sleeping bag. A one-man event with music, presented by Jimmy Grzelak, registered Eagle Scout. With music and scary stories.”
Alexis’ Take: Good on Williamstown, Mass., for temporarily lending us wunderkind of weird Jimmy Grzelak, whose quick-witted, keenly intelligent and completely warped one-man show How to Be A Terrorist weaves together narrative threads about the Boy Scouts of America, Al Qaeda, musical theater, sex and bullying, all in the span of 50 or so minutes.
What’s revelatory is how effortlessly Grzelak intertwines these seemingly disparate worlds, to the point where you almost wish you’d made the connections yourself. He includes amazingly true quirky historical facts, for example, about the foppish Lord Robert Baden-Powell, one of the founders of the Boy Scouts, who performed The Pirates of Penzance in Afghanistan, and with whom Grzelak colorfully imagines roaming around the hills of Kandahar (where he says they’d accidentally step on and crush flowers occasionally but only to “do our part in the war on drugs”).
The question at the core of this sparkly spider web of ideas is where is the line between angry, frustrated, smart kids and full-blown, indoctrinated killers? That the homicidal version doesn’t look so dissimilar from the earlier manifestations (wanting to belong, to be recognized) is a not a new subject in art, but it’s cunningly explored here nonetheless.
Take when Grzelak, clad in his crisp scout uniform, offers to demonstrate how to build a fire, and so he pulls different ingredients from a backpack… obviously the same method of transport used in the Boston bombing. Of course, wood and paper and a lighter are less violent fire starters compared to explosives, but the point is made.
There are many subtle, smart touches throughout the writing. But as a performer, Grzelak is quite the opposite of underplayed. He’s a force of nature, a kind of cynical Peter Pan, who occupies more space than his slight form would at first indicate, exuding confidence. It is without an ounce of self-consciousness that he precedes readings of Dzhokhar Tsaranaev’s tweets by blowing into an actual bird caller.
He’s constantly engaging with the audience, too——when he saw that I was taking notes in the second row, he quipped that his favorite kindling is “bad reviews.”
Grzelak can also really sing. He belts in a falsetto like the eerie spirit child of Brian Wilson and Yma Sumac, whether it’s leading the audience in a round of ridiculously bleak fireside ballads or pretending to warble-vomit after eating 50 meatballs.
The darkly humorous way that all these various oddities come together makes for an unusual experience in the Capital: that of original political and social commentary. Probably because it’s also clearly drawn from a deep personal well.
When he mentions the vote that the Boy Scouts of America held to lift their ban on homosexuality earlier this year, he says, “I wanted to write an obit and declare victory. Which is something the terrorists do a lot.”
See it if: You’ve always wondered what Yma Sumac and Brian Wilson’s spirit child sounds like.
Skip it if: You are boring and/or dead.