As the lights dimmed in the Bryant Lake Bowl theatre, and Seth Lepore started his performance, I was confused. Lepore sat on stage, nervously glancing around the audience, making disjointed comments about being in Antarctica. The audience was laughing — because this was an inside joke I didn’t get? Because they were uncomfortable? Because they were just happy? I couldn’t have told you.
Ten minutes in, I was laughing, too. Why? Because Lepore is very entertaining. I didn’t understand some of what he was talking about, and he jumped from scene to scene, character to character, sometimes before I noticed, and I probably missed several references, but it was still funny. Sometimes the scene itself is funny; sometimes it is the randomness and sheer absurdity. And very frequently, it’s just because Lepore has a great stage presence, and has such an intensely physical style that it’s impossible to stop staring at him.
Kickin’ Ass and Takin’ Names: Measuring Success One Failure at a Time is a “new interactive, and highly improvised, solo show”, the third in a trilogy of solo shows about the underbelly of the self-help movement (previous shows, Losing My Religion: Confessions of a New Age Refugee and SuperHappyMelancholyexpialidocious, were popular pieces at the Minnesota Fringe Festival). The shows stand on their own and can be seen in any order, assures Lepore, and, having not seen the first two but having enjoyed the third, I can support that claim.
Throughout the show, Lepore uses written suggestions obtained before the show from audience members as inspiration for a series of scenes and characters in which he explores the murky ideal of success and the very real, looming prospect of failure. In particular, he discusses (in surprisingly serious moments at the beginning and ending of the show) how hard it is to succeed as an artist, and at what point does one throw in the towel; a topic close to home for Lepore who describes himself in the program as “entering into Mid-Career status as a theater artist” and informs us that “this is when people throw in the towel [. . .] working 60 hour weeks with no sign of stopping while still being in the same financial position as when they began just becomes too much.” It creates a curious juxtaposition — the absurd sketches, songs, and dances that have the audience snorting with laughter, and the moments in which you wonder why live theatre audiences are diminishing, why the amount of money people are willing to spend on theatre is diminishing, and how long artists like Lepore can go on doing what they do and still be able to feed themselves. As I walked home from the Bryant Lake Bowl, my thoughts kept jumping back and forth between these serious questions, and the hilarious memory of Lepore staring, bug-eyed, at the theatre, flailing his arms about in an interpretive dance.
Kickin’ Ass and Takin’ Names is an untraditional show, but is certainly worth your time and money. So, my advice is to get yourself down to the Bryant Lake Bowl (which is, by the way, a really fun venue, because who doesn’t want to have beer/a burger/pad thai while watching a funny show?), leave your expectations at the door, and enjoy. Ponder the serious questions, laugh at the silly parts, even when you don’t really know what’s happening, and brace yourself for the interpretive dance (which, by the way, is worth the price of admission on its own). Enjoy Lepore’s incredible stage presence and physical style, and cheer on the local “guest stars” who hop up on stage for short scenes. And most importantly, have fun!
Kickin’ Ass and Takin’ Names: Measuring Success One Failure at a Time by Seth Lepore, February 28-March 2, 2014 at Bryant Lake Bowl, 810 W. Lake St, Minneapolis, MN. Tickets $14, or $12 for students, seniors, and those with a MN Fringe button or MPR member card; online here, at (612) 825‑8949, or in person at the box office.