My husband and I went to see comedian John Fugelsang's Drama-League Nominated Off-Broadway solo show, Guilt: A Love Story, last night at the Neptune Theatre in Seattle.
Since I've been following Fugelsang's career and social media activities for some time, I knew the show was going to be both hilarious and touching. He intertwines the story of his parents' rather unusual courtship (a nun and a Franciscan brother conduct a chaste exchange of letters between New York and Africa for 10 years), his own courtship and eventual marriage to long-time girlfriend, designer Charmien La Framenta, and a few of the highlights of his career that include an energetic re-enactment of his confrontation with American Nazi/KKK leader David Duke on Bill Maher'sPolitically Incorrect into a compelling and astonishing performance that defies most of what we have come to expect from the frequently self-indulgent artform known as the "one-man show."
He even good-naturedly nods to that popularly held conception of solo theatre as he begins, then shatters all expectations with an excellent story, beautifully presented. Agile, both physically and intellectually, Fugelsang moves through time and space like a cat who has already figured out Schrödinger's game, crapped in the box, and split for the coast. Hands-down smarter and funnier than just about anyone else in the entertainment industry today, he manages to pull into his tale such unexpected elements as the Biblical story of Onan, President James K. Polk's motivations for going to war with Mexico to take California, and Jeb Bush's passionate embrace of the prison industry in Florida.
For two hours, Fugelsang held us in his palm. He cracked us up, made us cry, and left us renewed. He delivered catharsis, the truest test of live theatre, in my book.
After the show, after two kinetic hours of impassioned storytelling (and some of the best acting I have ever seen, quite frankly, and I have seen a lot of good acting over the years), Fugelsang stood at the door in the theatre lobby like a pastor in the vestibule, shaking hands and taking a moment for photos and small talk with audience members as we spilled out into the damp Seattle night.
We stopped. Damon introduced himself and shook Fugelsang's hand. I asked if I could hug him, and he agreed. He was kind and genuine and I am even more impressed with him after seeing him live. If Guilt a Love Story is coming to a city near you -- even if that means you have to travel a few hours by plane, train or automobile to see it-- do so. You will be glad you did.
From an article about "Guilt: A Love Story" published on TheatreMania.com:
"'I'm not going to claim I've got a proper piece of solo theatre,' says John Fugelsang towards the beginning of his one-man show now making its world premiere at New York Theater Workshop. But don't you believe him. Like a master magician, this writer/performer tells you up front that he's got nothing up his sleeve and then proceeds to pull off a magical, immensely satisfying evening with a theatrical bit of sleight of hand."
John Fugelsang starts his one-man show, All the Wrong Reasons: A True Story of Neo-Nazis, Drug Smuggling, and Undying Love, by acknowledging that he isn’t performing a “proper piece of solo theatre. The stories here are not brave, the stakes are very low, my arc is flimsy at best, I’m not a heroic character; I don’t come out of the closet, go to Iraq or kick drugs; and the only time I mention Palestine is in this sentence.” Like everything else in All the Wrong Reasons, his disclaimer’s funny because it’s true. Although the autobiography that Fugelsang unfolds seems out of place in New York Theater Workshop’s voluminous space, it manages to stay aloft on the strength of his self-deprecating wit and warm personality.
Michael Criscuolo reviewed "Guilt: A Love Story" in 2007, when the show was performed under its previous title: "All the Wrong Reasons"
From the article:
... a joyous surprise, a tour-de-force showing by a talented writer and performer with an important message to convey: that what you need to heal your heart may already be inside you. Namaste, word, and amen, brother.