Can Michael Come Out and Play?

In my pre-Fringe promotion for this show, I wrote the following:

“Mahmoud Hakima stormed onto the storytelling scene with Two Bowls of Cereal and Some Bacon, an impressive initial effort that was both heartfelt and well-structured. With that show, he established himself as someone with at least one great story to tell – the question of whether or not he’s go staying power as a storyteller may be answered by this one.”

That question has been answered — the man is definitely a storyteller, at least insofar as he has more than one story to tell.

One of my favorite elements of his show last year was the title. “Two bowls of cereal and some bacon” wasn’t a key line, as such — it wasn’t tied to some major, life-changing event. It was a single line that had stuck in his head, tied to a single unsettling incident. And in that respect it was a reflection of what that show — and what I suspect his entire body of writing — is about: a fascination with the way time and memory work.

Likewise — there’s a few emotionally significant moments: but this isn’t a story about those moments. It’s about the moments in between — those few strange comments and incidents that popped up here and there in his life.

I have a few criticisms: some of the character transitions were distracting and clunky, I question a few staging choices — but for the most part those fall under the camp of I-would-have-done-it-differently, or it-might-have-been-more-effective-if — there’s very little in the way of wrong choices here.

The greatest departure from his previous work are the poetic flights of fancy — at various points he lapses into rhyming couplets, illustrating fantastic scenarios that he imagines. They’re hit-or-miss, but for the most part they’re successfully whimsical and entertaining.

However — and I’m going to have a harder time sensibly articulating this point — there’s an incredible intensity to his delivery, and while for the most part it works for him, there’s definitely places where I wish he would be more relaxed — more casual — and use that to draw us in. His theatricality can sometimes work against him (and, yes, I’m aware of what an incredibly ironic criticism that is, coming from me), and there’s several places in which I think something more playful, more relaxed, would be more successful.

(I also find it ironic — and I want to emphasize that this has nothing to do with his performance, but is a frustration I have in watching it performed — that this is a show about prejudice, but plays so much into the ingrained prejudices of a Midwestern audience. There’s a degree to which the fun of the show comes from Northerners laughing at Southerners. But racism isn’t uniquely southern — it’s just more visible there.)

Regardless. This is a fine piece of work. I’d urge everyone to go see it, but I’m pleased to state that all evidence suggests that encouragement is unnecessary. But if you were on the fence — yes. He should be watched.

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