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Goethe-Institut – Main Stage, 812 7th St NW

Remaining Performances:

Sunday, July 15, 1 p.m. Wednesday, July 18, 6 p.m. Saturday, July 21, 7 p.m. Sunday, July 22, 4 p.m.

Running Time: 60 minutes

They say: “Stories of summer camp and riot police, songs of young love and the fall of empire…and other momentous moments in history. This personal encounter with global events had a sold–out run at the Minnesota Fringe. ”

Derek’s Take: The only things remotely evil about Dylan Fresco are the pointy little tufts of hair atop each of his eyebrows, but he’s not taking any chances with his audience. You will like him, gosh darn it! And if his show happens to begin just as an older lady is struggling to find her seat in the dark, he will order the house lights up so she can put her bottom safely in place and then start the program all over again, from the top. It’s an extreme act of overcompensation, perhaps, but it’s also the fuel that propels his program, a mix of personal stories and Old World folk tunes.

Domino’s begins with a spare ditty on the folly of courtship and the seeming inevitability of heartbreak. The tune—-featuring couplets sung in Russian and then translated into English—-swaggers mournfully behind Fresco’s Springsteen-inspired sashay and exposes the affable everyman that is the sine qua non of his appeal. From there, he segues into the first of his three stories, which tracks his time as a teen member of a traveling Soviet-American theater group in 1991. Highlights here are the song and dance numbers that Fresco recalls on stage. There he is, in one moment, fumbling through “We Are the World” in the staccato English of a Russian exchange student; in the next, he pantomimes a line of students passing a giant Earth between them in a comic, low-budget offering of peace.

For all its charms, the narrative contains extraneous details that, while clearly memorable for the performer, do little to explain why he’s telling the story. Fresco dwells on novelties such as limo rides, phones in hotel bathrooms, and an appearance on Good Morning America, but replays his interactions with the Russian exchange students almost as an afterthought. Did he consider these examples of American wealth and largess against the privations and hardships of Soviet society? Perhaps, as a 16-year-old, such thoughts didn’t occur to him, but this show is the perfect chance for a retrospective.

It’s only at the end of his tale, when Mikhail Gorbachev’s ouster forced a boy named Kostya to stay with Fresco’s family in New York, that we get to see his Soviet comrades at any length, and even then their shared experience amounts to watching CNN. What did Kostya say? Was he afraid? Elated? They were watching history, yet Fresco hardly seems transformed by the time he picks up his guitar again. It’s a missed opportunity.

He has more success telling the story of his grandpa Norman, a Turkish Jew who fled to America just as the Ottoman Empire was about to crumble. Here, Fresco spends a looooong interlude recounting family lore, such as the amusing tale of his grandfather’s now-infamous $5 trip to the barber in 1908. (This is what happens, apparently, when your English vocabulary is limited to yes, please, and thank you.) But what’s missing from the bulk of this passage, which at points nearly put the flock of fifty-somethings in the audience to sleep, is Fresco himself. Obviously, he wasn’t around for much of Norman’s life, but better editing would have allowed him to interweave this nearly 10-minute chunk of material with the later parts of the story, where Fresco finds himself in Paris on the 50th anniversary of V-E Day.

That’s when he sees a plaque on a school building commemorating the lives of 165 Jewish school children rounded up by the French police and sent off to concentration camps to die. In a genuine moment of reflection, Fresco wonders if he’d even be alive if his grandfather had stayed in Constantinople (not Istanbul).

But these stories merely bring up a question: How the hell did Domino’s Pizza save Fresco’s life? In the last act, we finally learn, though it’s a revelation that’s more than slightly oversold. Nonetheless, the tale captures the unique absurdities at the crossroads of American culture, from the choreography of protest (this time, at the 2008 Republican national convention) to the enduring appeal of Rage Against the Machine. (“Fuck you/I won’t do what you tell me!”) By the time Fresco finds himself locked in a walk-in freezer, waiting for the contents of tear gas canisters to dissipate outside, you can’t help wishing that, on that day, you were right there with him.

See It If: You voted for George W. Bush because you thought you might like to have a beer with him.

Skip it if: You prefer your folk music unsullied by long storytelling interludes.

DISCLOSURE: The author is a writer of/performer in Apocalypse Picnic, a show in this year’s Capital Fringe.