It is often difficult, if not impossible, to make sense of the past. That is what Natalie Fingerhut teaches us in her Hamilton Fringe show The Kalamazoo Diaries, directed by LJ Nelles and based on a true account of Fingerhut’s time in Kalamazoo, Michigan. The character of Natalie Fingerhut (Esther Arbeid) takes us on her journey, of being pushed into an employment position she knows nothing about and being forced to miss the memorial service of her deceased friend and lover, Doug Robertson (David Fournier).
Natalie is forced to attend a medieval studies conference in Kalamazoo and spend time learning about The Crusades, and also how to read and sing in Latin, with some eunuchs, a monk, and some medieval history geeks. During this process, Natalie repeatedly comes into contact with the ghost of Doug who expresses with great clarity his impassivity towards their relationship, by dismissing virtually all of Fingerhut’s opinions by saying, “Oh, Natalie.” He also bluntly refuses, on several occasions, to explain to her how he died – the one piece of information she so desperately desires to know. Other than the fact that we learn that Doug and Natalie share many drunken memories, I cannot seem to see the significant connection between these two characters, or even imagine that they truly care about each other at all. All sentimental moments fell flat. All unsentimental moments fell flat. Their relationship seemed to be quite stiff and forced.
The message of this play is clear: sometimes it’s acceptable to not know about the past and to let go of it in order to move forward. However, the majority of the play seemed like filler material to me. It appeared as though this play was extended to be 60 minutes in length and filled with unnecessary and irrelevant information that neither served to further the audiences’ knowledge of the characters, nor their knowledge of the plot. This is an interesting story that has not been executed to its full potential. The characters are, for the most part, lacking the depth that makes me care about what they are saying, or what happens to them.
I understand the necessity of linking the Kalamazoo experience to the death of Doug, but it seemed as though pieces were missing. And for the record, I was far more interested in Natalie and Doug’s relationship than anything that was going on in Kalamazoo.
If you can suspend your disbelief, you’ll get a few laughs out of this show’s satirical take on medievalists. I just can’t help but think that Arbeid is more animated in the lobby than she is on stage…
The Kalamazoo Diaries is presented by Winterhut Productions and playing Hamilton Theatre Inc., as part of the Hamilton Fringe Festival, until July 27th. For more information, visit www.hamiltonfringe.ca.