Admittedly, I was never a huge fan of "Little House on the Prairie." But I knew enough about the show that I got the joke each time Alison Arngrim (who played Nellie Oleson) referenced it during her debut Rochester Fringe Festival performance of "Confessions of a Prairie B;+@h" at School of the Arts. Unfortunately, this wasn't the case for one of the likely suburban and probably drunk women sitting directly behind me, who wondered aloud about the meaning of it all, while her clueless friends obliged her questions at top volume. What I would have given to have gone Nasty Nellie on them.
I don't mean to say this was a niche show -- SOTA's Ensemble Theatre was packed, and Arngrim's anecdotes about childhood fame and the hilarity she's derived from that strange ride were met with enthusiasm. From what I could hear of the show, Arngrim has taken the toll of her role as a pre-teen snot in stride, and she spent the first few minutes of her 75-minute show relating what it means to have been pegged as a bitch from a tender age, at no real fault of her own. Lots of us can learn a thing or two from how she's handled it.
"Somebody somewhere has called me a bitch to my face at least once a day since I was 11," she says. Arngrim joked about owning the identity, stating that as David Hasselhoff is to Germany, she is to the French -- her character's personality seemed perfectly native to them.
True to the promotion's promises, Arngrim spills about a medley of Hollywood encounters, with criticisms and side-eye aplenty. I don't want to give away too much of the show, as two more performances are offered, but I will say she does some excellent impressions of Carol Channing and Eartha Kitt. And she gets in a good, subtle dig at Marie Osmond.
The last half hour of the show is dedicated to a Q&A, derived from cards that the audience could fill out before the show. There is a palpable disconnect between Arngrim and a portion of her audience, which she seems to be aware of. She cited the typical, strange nostalgia that some people seem to have about the past when they ask if she would want to live in time period of "Little House." Her over-the-top response: "No. I don't want to live in any century where I cannot get Botox injections and a green apple martini. Preferably at the same time."
When asked what she liked most about Rochester, Arngrim said that she was impressed by a drag show she had recently seen that was packed with drag kings; that even in California, there was a dearth of kings at clubs. The amount of distain and snarky, bigoted bullshit that I heard murmured all around me was alienating and depressing as f***. Catch up to this century or we will leave you behind, people.
"Confessions of a Prairie B;+@h" will be performed again Saturday, September 17, and Sunday, September 18, at RAPA @ SOTA: Ensemble Theatre. 7:30 p.m. $20. Appropriate for ages 18 and older.
Beloved comedian Patton Oswalt performed to a packed Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre, returning to the Rochester Fringe after his hit show in 2012. Oswalt had the audience in his hands immediately when he referred to the grand venue -- with its glowing marble and columns around the stage -- as the Colosseum and the terror dome. "Do they do, like, eerie Greek snuff shit here after-hours?" he asked.
After some brief jabs at the frightful mess of America's current election cycle -- "this isn't even politics anymore, this is the prequel to 'Fury Road'" -- and heckling people in the front row a bit about their occupations, Oswalt tackled the elephant in the room. "Yes, I'm a widower."
His wife, Michelle McNamara, died suddenly in April, and he's spent the past few months trying to pick up the pieces and raise their 7-year-old daughter. Oswalt joked about the off-ness of the term "healing journey," and shared moments of mirth in his navigation of his own grief and his imperfect attempts to buffer his kid from the world on Mother's Day.
He discussed the struggle of finding ways to make light of life during such devastation, and how at odds his profession is with how he's feeling. The performance ended with a standing ovation, to which Oswalt replied, "Thanks guys, I needed this."
Nate Fernald, who has understandably been dubbed one of Comedy Central's "Comedians to Watch," opened for Oswalt. I enjoyed his deadpan manner, which alternated with Jewish neuroses/self-esteem jokes and unabashed vulgarity. The latter bits only became more hilarious when he feigned awkwardness while over-explaining certain sexual references for the more buttoned-up members of the crowd. Fernald's act succeed in making the audience squirm while roaring with laughter.
Both comedians took advantage of the presence of the ASL interpreters, creating bonus material on the spot by checking to see what the sign-words were for various body parts or vulgar expressions they'd mentioned in their jokes. At one point, Oswalt cleverly played on the fact that there were sort of two audiences present, pointing out that with a certain stream of sentences he could make it seem like the interpreter wasn't translating, but telling the deaf audience that the comic had snapped, and he didn't want to put them through what the poor hearing audience was having to witness.
I want to take a moment to mention this is the only show out of the five I've seen so far that provided a sign language interpreter. I assume that it's probably a service reserved for the headlining acts, but this fact severely limits the Fringe experience for a large portion of Rochester's population.EDITOR'S NOTE: Fringe organizers have provided us with a list of all of the ASL-interpreted shows.
With more than 500 performances taking place Thursday, September 15, through Saturday, September 24, there's a lot to take in. We'll help you get started.
Comedian Patton Oswalt discusses philosophy, comedy, and how stand-up will always be his mainstay