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They say: “Meet Ben. Ben thought he was doing everything right when his world came crashing down around him. Join him on his journey and find out what the movie Cool Runnings could teach us about life.”
Alexis’ Take: Hell hath no fury like a child of the ’90s falsely promised a Cool Runnings theatrical experience. At least, that’s my personal motto after going in 100 percent primed to “feel the rhythm” and “feel the rhyme” of the Jamaican bobsled Doug E. Doug/John Candy classic, as it was advertised (okay and embellished in my fantasy-ridden brain) in Sanka‘s Fringe Guide description.
Disappointingly, over the course of this hour-long one man show, we instead get to hear only occasional clips from Cool Runnings, while following the story of the far less interesting Ben, a stock character office schmo whose running narrative about himself (the tedium of office and domestic life etc., etc.) sound like Kevin Spacey’s lines from American Beauty run through the rinse cycle 100 times.
Surrounding Ben are some thoroughly unpleasant characters, every single one an instantly recognizable stereotype — the talkative Mexican coworker who squeals in a high-pitched thick Spanish accent! The fussy British boss named Geoffrey! The misogynistic bro best friend who’s obese and a NY sports fan! The horrible girlfriend who makes Ben use Carly Rae Jepsen as a ringtone and whom has supposedly been with for six years even though she isn’t very nice to him and isn’t good at sex (okay!).
From writer Philip Dallmann, we get such gems as this line, describing a gay man as “so enflamed he’d make an Eskimo sweat.” Ho ho!
You have got to feel for actor Manu Kumasi, whose considerable talents make this less painful to get through than it would be otherwise. Despite the shallowness of the people he’s playing, Kumasi’s commitment and charm to each role manages to make some moments miraculously work, mostly revolving around music, like when he kicks off the show with an uninhibited karaoke rendition of Outkast’s “Hey Ya” or when he hears “My Heart Will Go On” on the radio.
He’s so game, he even commits to Dallman’s bizarre attempt at spoken word poetry about going to Wendy’s. Jeebus.
His performance here is a testament to why Kumasi is so ubiquitous in the DC theater scene. But after starring in productions like Constellation’s Gilgamesh and Keegan’s A Behanding in Spokane before this, it’s clear that he has yet to star in a show that deserves him. Let’s hope that happens soon. If he can handle Sanka, he can probably handle anything.
See it if: As Sanka Coffie said, “you are the kind of club-toting, raw-meat-eating, Me-Tarzan-You-Jane-ing, big, bald bubblehead that can only count to ten if he’s barefoot or wearing sandals.”
Skip it if: You don’t slap your knee heartily when you hear zingers about white people eating watermelon and fried chicken, or a “fat heifer” woman “stuffing Twinkies in her face.”