My second Fringe Fest evening: A contrast in solo shows

 I can't help thinking of a long-defunct San Francisco nightclub when I take in a solo show at the Fringe Festival. (A hit Kingston Trio LP was once in the family record collection.)  Each such act embodies and celebrates "the hungry i," the stress and bravado that the ego assumes when it wants something beyond itself for validation. 

At its best, the emotional need joins forces with imagination and hard work to yield something that suits fringe festivals well. Friday night I found that doubly true as I attended "Inner State Stories" at the Athenaeum and "Big Dad Energy" at Indy Eleven. 

The genres of storytelling and standup are well-represented by those two shows, respectively. Jamie Campbell builds on the Fringe tradition of first-class standup comedy in "Big Dad Energy." Unpacking the title to provide a through-line to his show, Campbell riffs on the childlessness of himself and his equally middle-aged wife, exploring the "what-if" possibilities of how his dynamic manner might build upon his life up to this point.

His act is fast-paced and brightly articulated, well-amplified in the cozy confines of the Indy Eleven space at Indy Fringe's home base just east of the College and Mass avenues intersection. He weaves in some interaction with the audience that is friendly and stays clear of the put-down manner occasionally encountered in his genre.

His pride is unabashed, but well set against his privileged status in the world as a white, middle-class man whose wife is the breadwinner. The house-husband part of that status gets a salute but not too much emphasis. He's mainly reflecting on the fatherhood he's never had and doesn't expect for himself.

Unconventional ideas of discipline, such as forcing a misbehaving prepubescent son to watch his parents' sex act, are as close as he gets to "blue" material.  And his point, typical of his sententious yet plausible reasoning, is that youngsters are likely so appalled by Mom and Dad's behavior in what engendered them that their own naughtiness is set aside for a considerable time. Campbell's humor ranges much more widely than that, but the downpour is nonstop and oddly refreshing. 

In "Inner State Stories," Errol McLendon displays an ingrained folksy manner suitable to his Southern upbringing and focusing on his traveling relationship with his mother, who died just over a decade ago. In her posthumous honor, he's since taken a 7,000-mile road trip, making his way to many of the remaining roadside attractions that have survived the universal convenience and unfolksiness of the interstate highway system. From the vantage point of Chicago, where he now lives, he has ranged to the Pacific Northwest and back. His humor is of the milder sort, and a gentle sentimentality is applied judiciously and authentically. 

Errol McLendon tells tales of growing up in the South, and the need to hit the road.

McLendon's father was a university president in Cleveland, Mississippi. As a widow, his mother built upon her close relationship with Errol to engage his sense of wonder with the prospects of motor trips. "Are you ready for an adventure?" she would ask him with contagious excitement at the outset.

McLendon presents a wealth of slides depicting the spots they visited. He also offers some visual documentation of where he's been on his own, with his narrative imaginatively placing his mother in the passenger seat beside him. His mother, addressing him as "Pumpkin" from his youth onward, passed on to him her sense of justice and welcoming to anyone who displayed common humanity. That seems to have remained a source of enduring companionship. He continues to collect road-trip stories wherever he goes with his show.

The storyteller's feeling for social justice was built upon the aftermath of court-ordered school integration. That's when white citizens of means established private academies in many Southern communities, leaving the public schools to African-Americans and making clear they should fend for themselves and the few whites (like McLendon) who chose to remain behind. 

The emphasis on his homeland's troubled racial history represents a side trip in "Inner State Stories," and that sadness remains in the shadow of a larger sadness: the disappearance of long mother-son road trips along routes that weren't four-lane divided highways identified by the red-white-and-blue shield signs that have become so familiar over nearly seven decades. 

"Inner State Stories" bears a precise title as a reminder that we carry our inner life with us when we venture by automobile to unfamiliar sites and cast our vision toward new horizons. "The hungry i" continues to be the travel agent we customize as we continue our journeys, these Fringe shows say.


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