And then, things got serious
Thank You Notes
KC Fringe Festival
There seems to be a bit of a trend this year for pieces which start out humorous and then turn increasingly serious, sometimes very swiftly indeed. Case in point: the Vicki Vodrey production "Thank You Notes", which takes us through the life of the late, lamented Angela (Vanessa Severo) via a series of thank-you notes written to the people and things in her life and read allowed by her fraternal twin, Ethan (Scott Cox).
It starts off lightly enough, for a funeral. Angela's will stipulates that her brother must read out the notes, one by one, to the very end. Each one reflects back on a memory, be it good or bad, while Angela hovers unseen by her coffin, cackling with glee and offering detail and commentary. She is (you'll pardon the expression) a lively character, full of piss and vinegar. Witty and smart and with a deep love of Jimmy Fallon and Barry Manilow ("Don't laugh!"), the details of her abbreviated life are filled in little by little.
And then it happens. The Big Secret. And all the laughs melt away and suddenly the whole story becomes incredibly awkward. The art of the uncomfortable is difficult to pull off to good effect, but one finds oneself feeling deeply for poor Ethan as he stands at the podium, reading on and on even as he dearly wishes to stop. Even Angela, determined as she was that he see the thing through, begins to wonder if this was the best idea after all. In the end, it is Ethan's new wife, Betsy (Mandy Mook) who finishes the job, reading aloud the last letter to a roomful of stunned, silent mourners.
"Thank You Notes" is an interesting production. Like many of its Fringe brethren, it is simply staged with a minimal cast, relying on the strength of the story and performances to carry it through. This it accomplishes ably. The performers sink their teeth into the material, and do an excellent job with it. If one must complain, it is that the ending has no real resolution to speak of: the secret is out, lives are hurt, and no one's sure what will happen next. Even Angela, as she finally climbs into her coffin, is unsure if this is what she really wanted. We are left watching the survivors hurry off to pick up the pieces she left behind.
This is a challenging bit of theatre. Fascinating, well-written for the most part, and bold. I've never seen the letter device used before in quite this way, so it was very interesting to see it done, particularly so well. Due to the subject matter, however, I must note it is strictly for adults. In any case, it makes for a very interesting and thought-provoking performance of the sort that the Fringe excels in, and it is worth catching just for the skill in which it is presented alone. Just check your expectations at the door.