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They say: “A Man. A Squirrel. A Controversial Theory. The must see absurdist psychosocial thought experiment of the season. In a battle of wits with Sciurus carolinensis, Charles Darwin struggles to order the universe while musing on matters trivial and insignificant.”
Gregs Take: Fringeand, really, I suppose any species of artistic expressioncan be sorted into two families: those works that swing for the fences in an attempt to address the Big Questions, and those that just want to hang out. This is not to say that there is anything wrong with a light-hearted comedy thats only after a few guffaws, but in my book its always more impressive to see a Fringe show work as diligently as Squirrel, or The Origin of a Species to say something profound about the human condition. It’s massive in the scope of ideas it tries to encompass: In under an hour the script touches on mortality, art, science, love, evolution, identity, trust, fulfillment, dinosaurs, Walt Disney, the World Wrestling Federation, and Anthony Weiner. While all this doesnt add up to the Big Answer, the ideas are good enough and the packaging sleek enough that by the end of the show, that shortcoming is totally forgivable.
The script was written by Michael Merino and divides its dialogue between an American Gray Squirrel and Charles Darwin in cargo shorts. As the Squirrel, Carlos Bustamante contemplates art while Ian LeValleys Darwin contemplates science, and together their relationship evolves according to Erik Eriksons eight stages of psychosocial development. If that sounds complicated its because it absolutely is, but the acting is crisp and the dialogue streamlined, enough so that Squirrels overall effect is like running through a Baskin-Robbins of ideas rather than being piled down with philosophy textbooks. The complexity becomes part of the fun, rather than an obstacle.
LeValley and Bustamante are both excellent actors with finely tuned timing and genuine chemistry, but Merinos words are the real stars of the play. His script is witty and fast-paced, so much so in fact that if you take a break to mull over one of its many salient points youll find in a few seconds that you missed at least three more just like it. Jumping back in is not easy, but that isnt to say that the breakneck speed with which notions fly by in Squirrel is a bad thing; once you learn to kick back and go with the current, its quite pleasant.
Unfortunately, there is a downside to all this. Its very rare to find a show this clever that doesnt know its this clever, and Squirrel is no exception. Few and far between are the scripts that attempt to address the human condition and dont have at least one moment where they jump up and down and say Look at me, look at me, look at how smart I am. The moment where the Squirrel turns to Darwin and tells him that his running narrationthe one required by the scriptis obnoxious is just such a moment, and easily could have been omitted.
All told, Squirrel doesnt fully get where its going. However, taking into account that where it was going was to plumb the depths of human relationships and explain mankinds place in the universe, getting as far as it does still makes for a damn fine show. It has wit and charm to burn rounding out all of its navel-gazing, and besides, I dont think the Fringe festival play that adequately answers those questions even exists. Anybody who tells you theyve seen it is lying to you.
See it if: You like to contemplate the meaning of life, tempered with squirrel jokes.
Skip it if: You just want to hang out.