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      Pale Idiot
    Idiot's delight

    "Pale Idiot" is a satirical fable about society's outcasts, written with dark humor by the author of the play "Lipstick Traces" and winningly performed by a cast of six.


    Here's one way to look at "Pale Idiot." Suppose you went through all the works of Shakespeare, picked out the most minor characters you could find — gravediggers, attendants, messengers — and gave them their own play. This would be that play.

    Once upon a time there was a village, and in this village there were villagers — a mayor's assistant, a blacksmith's apprentice, a mother's maid and an altar boy. Perhaps there were also a mayor, a blacksmith, a matron and a priest, but this is not their story. We have, gathered in the town square, some of the most upstandingly midlevel citizens of the village, the goers-along, the yes-men. And, hooded, gagged, tied to a post, we have the village idiot.

    Company: Frozen No Salt.
    Written by: Kirk Lynn.
    Directed by: Laramie Dennis.
    Music by: Tim Robert.
    Set design by: J.W. Larkin.
    Costumes by: Maggie Dick.
    Lighting: Jerry Browning .

    Related links: Official site
    Greenwich Street Theater
    547 Greenwich Street
    Aug. 8-24, 2003

    This, we may suspect early on, is no ordinary idiot. He seems to know secrets and see the underlying nature of life in the play's world. He speaks in fables — fables within a fable. Nevertheless, knowledge has not alleviated the despondency with which he inhabits his squalid post.

    "I know a game," he tells us. "I know a game called Pale Idiot — you have to be dirty and stupid and naked to play. There is no end. It's not a very good game."

    One day, having heard that the village had "an idiot problem," a health inspector arrives in town. The proud townsfolk assure him that they have not an "idiot problem" but just the one idiot, whom they gladly point out to the inspector for proper disposal.

    The inspector insists on giving everyone "The Idiot Test" just in case there might be more than one in town, despite the townspeople's protestations. The Idiot is the idiot because everyone knows it's so, they say.

    "Look right there — that is the idiot," the blacksmith's apprentice insists.

    "Look right there — that is the blacksmith's apprentice!" retorts the inspector, turning the tables on him. "Now, if you told me that person was a horseshoe I might have reason to believe you."

    The Idiot Test itself is a rapid-fire battle of wits that the inspector always wins because he asks the questions and he makes the rules. Virtually accusing themselves, the townspeople are trapped by their local grand inquisitor into confronting the question, are they not the real idiots?

    Ehren Christian is formidable as the inspector. Recalling Frank Gorshin of thirty years ago, he taunts and outwits his quarry in a lithe pas de deux that is as much physical and vocal as it is verbal. Constantly within sight of the top but never quite over it, Christian is full of caustic energy. His performance is so strong that I hesitate to suggest that there's almost too much of him — we actually need a little more of a break between his extended harangues. But the pacing problem takes nothing away from the skill of the performance.

    The other lead performance — Roxy Becker as the Idiot — could not be more different. The role of the tortured outcast looks physically as well as mentally demanding, and Becker handles the difficult part with rather brave assurance. She balances Christian's boisterous inspector in a way that keeps the play close to the ground.

    We should see our own shadow in "Pale Idiot's" unreal reality. It's a parable about those rejected by society — but even more about those who do the rejecting. These citizens' unthinking acquiescence is the same thing that makes possible the fascist state or the rounding up of our Muslim neighbors to be shipped off to military concentration camps.

    Whether or not playwright Kirk Lynn (a founder of Rude Mechanicals and author of the play "Lipstick Traces") had exactly this meaning in mind, he has created a play that's both thought-provoking and darkly funny, a peek into a dream dimension that's not so far from our own world. It is given a thoroughly absorbing production by Frozen No Salt, with standout performances by Christian and Becker and strong supporting work by the rest of the cast. It's the kind of inspired, jarring work that the Fringe Festival was invented for, and a play whose intensity and otherworldly imagination are especially suited to the festival's small, focused, black-box style of theater.

    AUGUST 23, 2003

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