The wild ride of Mobile Productions’ two-person variety show, ExTrashVaganza!, starts as the audience trickles into the main stage space of the Know Theatre. The writers and stars, Paul Strickland and Erika Kate MacDonald, launch into a delightful bit about two performers rushing around stage in a panic as they try to make some much needed, last-minute cuts to the show they’re about to perform.
From the start, Strickland and MacDonald have a sort of manic magnetism with each other, never missing a beat and delivering each joke with near perfect precision. Before long, the audience is roaring with laughter and deeply engrossed, waiting eagerly for the rest of the show before it has even truly begun.
ExTrashVaganza! is a show that needs its audience on its side quickly. In line with Fringe’s lighthearted tagline “Kinda weird. Like you,” ExTrashVaganza! uses a mix of strange objects to create strange characters who sing strange songs and make strange observations. These characters include extensions of Strickland and MacDonald, as well as an assortment of puppets made from discarded items thrown haphazardly onstage, the first of which is a puppet formed out of a discarded coffee carafe and an old shirt.
Other characters made of these recycled treasures include a one-legged mannequin who plays a hard-boiled detective, an old broom named “Debris” and a broken lamp that becomes the accidental child of a campy sitcom couple.
These characters don’t relate to each other, but rather exist in a series of vignettes. In between these small scenes, Strickland and MacDonald wax poetic about the ephemeral nature of time and reflect upon what it means to be a creator. They deliver some fantastic one-liners and amusing self-aware bits, but none of these pieces ever connect together enough to form any message at all. Instead, these characters deliver dirty jokes and poke fun at existentialism in a way that feels like an inside joke the audience never becomes privy to.
When a production attempts to ask life’s biggest questions relating to time, the circuitousness of life and the act of creation, there has to be a message to latch onto; otherwise it’s just a series of weird scenes that offer only surface-level amusement. This is ExTrashVaganza’s biggest misstep.
Overall, the show is wildly entertaining, thoughtful and uncommonly creative. ExTrashVaganza! certainly goes where into a genre where no show has gone before: the adult puppet musical variety show. For the open-minded and eagerly exploratory, ExTrashVaganza! will delight and inspire. And for everyone else, it will at least make for a good story to tell over dinner.