Have you ever noticed how funny drunk people are? Danny O'Connor has. In fact, he's turned it into an entire solo show. Bouncing Ugly chronicles his time as a bouncer at New York City's infamous club Coyote Ugly. His stories about the bar patron's revelry and drunkenness elicited ews, aws, and guffaws from Thursday night's audience.
Opening night of the first-ever Dallas Solo Fest was the perfect combination of heartfelt storytelling and inappropriate humor. The 10-day fest kicked off with our own Elaine Liner's Sweater Curse, which we reviewed in its last iteration. Her sweet yarn about love and loss sets the bar high for the festival, demonstrating how a solo show can be used to create a character and share a universal story.
This ability to connect through similarities, rather than differences, is the subtle distinction between a one-man show and stand-up comedy. While comics tend to demolish the barriers we put between one another by mocking everyone, one-man shows unite us through the power of storytelling. And there's certainly a sense of community at the Dallas Solo Fest, which received funding from a Kickstarter campaign.
Bouncing Ugly followed Sweater Curse for opening night, adding a sardonic edge to the night. O'Connor's story starts during his time as a theater student at the one of the best drama schools in the country, following him to New York City where he stared in an Off-Broadway show across Broadway from Daniel Radcliffe's performance in Equus (you know, the sexy psychological thriller about horses). O'Connor is at once goofy and charming, only to surprise with grotesque aspects of humanity (so many stories about bodily functions) and hardening truths about love. His immediate affability is only tripled when he alternates his story of heartbreak with a dance break to Tom Jones' "Sex Bomb."
The late-night show of the festival's first night is John Michael's Crossing Your I's. This is John Michael's fifth solo performance piece, all of which he's performed locally to an ever-widening group of dedicated fans. He uses real-life tales to build truths, from his struggle to build an identity in a social media-soaked world to trials working as a gay man at an Oklahoma McDonald's. And with each show critics have sung praises of potential, which it seems he is finally reaching in Crossing Your I's.
By far his most mature show to date, John Michael chronicles his time working at a nursing home that specializes in the care of elderly with dementia. He's leashed his frantic energy into a wide-eyed, brutally honest tale of working with people who, as he puts it are "losing their shit" (sometimes literally). And what could easily degenerate into a critique of the hospice system, instead explores the fear of mortality and compassion for those who've traveled the world before us.
If the first evening of Dallas Solo Fest is any indication of the nine days to follow, this city is in for a treat. Thursday was a charming, hilarious, poignant evening of theater. Read about all eight shows in Danielle Georgiou's preview and grab tickets at dallassolofest.com. There are two more chances to see Crossing Your I's, Bouncing Ugly and Sweater Curse as well.