The beauty of St Lou Fringe (and similar festivals) is that every so often an audience member will inadvertently walk into a show that is exactly their kind of theatre. For me, Meatball Séance, was that show. Upon entry into the Duet Gallery, it was obvious we were in for a bit of a mess: On the upstage wall was a handwritten poster-size recipe for Mrs. Colgin’s Meatballs; folding tables filled with the necessities to make said meatballs flanked a large swatch of ground covered with garbage bags that had been duct-taped into place.
Lights came up onto John Michael, a self-described “twink daddy,” in only calf-length socks, an apron, and a very fitted pair of shiny purple boxer briefs. From the jump, writer-performer John Michael explained how this is not just any one-man show: this show required audience participation, and the only way to avoid participating, he explained, was to cross your arms. (Pro tip: do not cross your arms. You want to be a part of this). Throughout his show, he chooses four audience members to play-act characters in his life: two boyfriends, a ‘vessel,’ and his best friend. If one of the few, you will be offered a beer and gently teased.
One of Michael’s strengths is his ability to create intimacy by forcing it. Though the entire premise was outlandish, the show felt very familiar. Together, we would channel our collective anger-love into making John Michael’s departed mother’s meatball recipe, in the hope of summoning his mother’s spirit so that she may meet and approve of his new boyfriend. Crazy? Sure. Michael is unhinged in the most endearing fashion: he tells us he is “totes spesh and enigmatic” as though his own mother had said the words. We get the feeling that his mother imbibed him with a wholesome feeling of self-worth that, now that she’s gone, may have ventured a bit off the rails.
John Michael is frantic most of the time, over-sharing and demanding. He yells “I can’t hear you, St Louis!” if we don’t respond loudly enough, and tells us, “If a fantasy is possible, you should go and fucking do it,” as though he knows we are not living our best lives. He is loud, pushy, funny– so much so that you almost miss the brief moments of anguish thrown among the chaos. This is grieving as performance art, a live iteration of the glamorous facades we create on social media, with only hints of darkness. Grief à la Millennials: Vulnerability laid in the concept of the show and washed over with pep and humor.
Be sure to catch the final performances of Meatball Séance August 25 at 9:30pm and August 26 at 1:00pm in the Duet Gallery. Tickets can be purchased here.