published Tuesday, March 6, 2012
International Falls is described as the post-coitus conversation of a comedian and his female fling. True confessions: Been there, done that. On my dates with comedians, they were usually as interested in using me as a sounding board for new routines as anything else. Maddening for relationships, but the private shows could be fun.
So those were my expectations for Thomas Ward’s play International Falls at the Out of the Loop Fringe Festival, presented by Haven Productions. No doubt, big laughs were to be had. The play alternated between the protagonist Tim’s stand-up routines conducted before a microphone stand, and his bedside conversations and between-the-sheets shenanigans with Dee, the hotel desk clerk who invited herself to his room after his show.
But it was the intense, honest and often bawdy dialogue between Tim and Dee, effortlessly acted by the playwright Thomas Ward and his wife Sherry Jo Ward, which wrung the most laughs. Plenty of guffaws about bodily functions and male genitalia—after all, this is a play that starts out with a hand job in a hotel bed—but also abundant wincing truths that evoked a more wry laughter.
After a ribald sex-and-death tête-à-tête, the couples commits the ultimate act of rebellion: destroying their cell phones. It sets them adrift into an existential sea, when down to their underwear they bare souls and confront just how it is they keep going on everyday, why Tim gets on stage to be uncomfortable and bitterly funny, and why Dee thinks she’d like to try the same. Ward’s dialogue is unrelentingly honest about the choices we make and the consequences we must bear. It confronts the depressive’s shadow question: When few things in your life are working, can you reinvent yourself one more time?
Thomas Ward’s writing acutely captures the mid-level comic who makes a modest living taking his 40-minute act on the road, dealing with anonymous booking agents and hotels that are rated solely on the availability of breakfast waffles. It’s a craft, something you can learn the mechanics of, replicating routines like a machine and touring mediocre clubs and hotel lounges, sure in the knowledge that self-ridicule is always good for a cheap laugh. It can be soul destroying. Ward depicts the process in a stunning way.
As humor mentor Marc Maron says about a comic’s vocation: “It’s not always about the funny. Sometimes it’s about the sad.” International Falls sears that in memory with haunting depth.