Written by David Jacobson
Directed by Mark Kenward
Starring David Jacobson
Runs until August 19 at the Edmonton International Fringe Festival
Acacia Masonic Hall (10433–83 Avenue)
$10 at the Fringe box office, $7 for students
How do you describe a play with a cast of 11 characters performed by a single actor? While it might throw some for a loop, writer and performer David Jacobson has no problem making sense of his eclectic Fringe debut, Theme Park.
"It's a perverse, kooky, pitch-dark comedy, but with a twisty film noir-ish plot that all ties together," he explains.
Don't worry, Jacobson's mind hasn't derailed yet — unlike the amusement park ride in his show, which earns the unfortunate title of worst ride accident ever. That's where the "twisty film noir-ish" element kicks in. A veteran amusement park detective and his protégé set off to Super-Duper Mega-Marine Coaster World to uncover the truth behind the ride's demise, encountering a slew of bizarre characters and shady mysteries along the way.
It's no surprise that Jacobson's play focuses on outlandish stories and scandals, as he spent years encountering both in his prior life as a reporter. His journalistic career also exposed him to a strange sort of truth that would ultimately form the basis of Theme Park.
"When I was a reporter covering horrible things, almost within minutes there'd be jokes. It's like your psychological immune system kicks in to try and distance those things," he explains. "I think that's where the humour in my show comes from."
"It's about horrible stuff […] and yet, at some level, it gets really funny because you can only take so much horrible stuff," he continues. "I think at a philosophical level, that's downright true. Boy, life is really just unfair and bad shit happens. How on earth can you respond to it? If you couldn't laugh, you'd go nuts."
Thankfully, the show's 11 characters — all played by Jacobson — provide enough laughter to overshadow the story's grim nature. They're as kooky as they come: everything from the head of a public relations firm holding hostages in Rapunzel's Tower to a marine biologist with an affinity for killer whales.
Jacobson spent years crafting the show's characters through different comedy gigs in San Francisco, allowing him to develop back stories for each one. Although some only make brief appearances in Theme Park, Jacobson describes them all as his "children" and has difficulty choosing his favourite.
"I think one of the fascinating things about solo theatre — what makes solo theatre interesting and unique as an art form — is watching one human being morph into all these different characters," he says. "I think that at a philosophical, sort of profound level, it shows that we all have these different characters inside of us."
Audience members can expect to see Jacobson stretching the boundaries of solo theatre, literally "leaping from character to character to character."
"The moment I love is when you switch between characters and there's just something cool about it," Jacobson explains. "Sometimes it's confusing when you switch to the new character, because you were so physically and mentally in the other character that it takes a moment to get out of their body and into the other character's body."
Although there's little doubt that the twists and turns in Theme Park will be bewildering, Jacobson stresses that, when it comes down to it, his show is a "full play" with a clear message.
"I think what my show is about is really just how frickin' crazy the world is and how we all try to make sense of it," he says. "I think the thing I want [the audience] to say is, 'Wow, there were a lot of people in that show that were strange, but they could possibly exist.' "