If there was ever a performance that had me thinking, “That’s totally me” throughout its entirety, it’s this one. Disorganized Productions decided to unleash this complete sassafras known as Katherine Cullen on stage, who unapologetically spilled concoctions of standup comedy and musical numbers everywhere just to showcase how straight up laughable it is to be human.
Needless to say, there’s more to the story. A coming-of-age narrative told in non-chronological order, Cullen shares her lifelong struggles with dyslexia, and how it has affected her relationships, academic career, and self-perception. The writing is clever in subtly showing the irony of blaming everything on a learning disability, as personality and character are in no way defined by it.
Cullen’s real talk was heartfelt and motivational without actually being preachy or stirring up feelings of poignancy. She focused solely on presenting a personal account that revealed her own way of combating her inner demons, and any feelings that came out of it were left for the audience to decide. She wasn’t eloquent in her speech, nor did the script at any point feel like a contrived play-by-play. Instead, she’d colloquially hop back and forth between memories as she recalled them.
It was intriguing to hear her thought process in each episode. Rather than providing exposition, she’d express her exact emotions towards interactions as they were happening, without feeling the need to explain herself at those moments, so that symbolism could take its course. The play was competently paced; she knew when to depict the phases of turmoil, the realization of her capabilities, and the acceptance of her individuality.
The most relatable segments by far were her trips down memory lane and her retellings of vignettes in her adult life. She accurately portrayed how adults might laugh at the things they used to do or believe as children, and yet how seriously they must have taken themselves at that age due to their inexperience. On the other hand, she turns the most trivial objects or events, like learning to use laundry detergent at the age of 22, into some of the most entertaining parts of her day by singing about them. It proved that no matter how menial the tasks are, everyone accomplishes them at different stages of their lives and may also try to make the most out of them.
The latter is especially evident in a story she wrote about two stuffed animals: a koala and a bunny. My favorite scene was when she brought them on stage to act as her conscience and sing to her about chasing her dreams. Seeing her engage with her musical schizophrenia had me in stitches, because of her childlike sense of humor. But its real effectiveness lied in her giving a purpose to inanimate objects. Although bittersweet from an onlooker’s point of view, the fact remains that sometimes people draw comfort from their imagination rather than from connections to other people, particularly in a case like this where Cullen often experienced difficulties building relations with others.
Her comedic style was comprised of cheeky punch lines and sarcasm, though she balanced these moments with a surprising abundance of insights on the kinds of people she would encounter and how she dealt with her conflicts. She knew when to act primal (literally, she’d bounce around like a primate), but she also knew when to create an atmosphere with correctly timed pauses and a more somber vocal tone.
My only criticisms concern the musical component of the show. The lyrics are inventive and hilarious albeit simplistic, but there were times when her piano accompaniment, Britta Johnson, would play fairly loudly and drown out her voice. Some of the notes were out of tune, and I had trouble hearing Cullen enunciate several of her lines, as she’d breeze through them a little too quickly.
That being said, if these songs ever get recorded and appear on iTunes, I’d buy the hell out of them.
StupidHead! (A Mucisal Cmoedy) is playing at the Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace, located on 16 Ryerson Avenue, until Aug. 16 as part of the SummerWorks Performance Festival. Tickets are $15. For more information, visit: summerworks.ca.