“Ninety-nine percent of all knifeslingin’ is balance...or maybe its 75 percent.”
This wacky fact is part of the world of J. Merrill Motz’s comedy Knifeslingin’, a show appearing at this year’s Cincinnati Fringe Festival.
Part comedy, part courtroom drama, Knifeslingin’ explores the world of media knifeslinger Ted “Critter” Montana, whose series of knifeslinging videos leads to inspiring one of his followers to put a man into the hospital.
This premise sounds like Duck Dynasty on steroids and would normally not appeal to me as a theatergoer, since it smacks of the worst elements of Trump’s America. But Motz is a skilled playwright who takes elements from this group and makes it the subject of humor that everyone, both right and left-leaning, can laugh at. Motz’s greatest talent is letting his audience follow along with his character’s footsteps without judgment. This was refreshing to see, since this play goes beyond polarizing stereotypes.
Motz alternates between acting out various bits of his character’s knifeslinging videos with courtroom testimony where he is grilled by the assistant district attorney, a role that will be filled by a different guest performer each night. On the night I saw his show this performer was Les Kurkendaal-Barrett, who also has his own solo Fringe show, Walking While Black in Moscow.
The addition of the attorney allows for more dynamic storytelling, rather than just Motz as Critter Montana explaining his techniques to the audience. The added character also adds more opportunities for big laughs, such as when Kurkendaal-Barrett asks Critter Montana if he has any knives on his person (I won’t say more, for it spoils the joke).
Motz was hysterically funny going through all the various poses and stances for slinging knives. His character Critter also has a list of six rules to save yer ass, the best of which is “Crap Happens. Be the Crap."
Despite a clever script and big laughs, this shows needs a bit more work to heighten and strengthen what is already there.
There were some problems with losing his place within the attorney’s “notes." More fundamentally, the dramatic arc of the piece could be heightened even further, since the stakes for Critter Montana don’t feel very high and the resolution to his problems at the end of the play feels forced and abrupt. Also surprising was the fact that Motz did not create actual videos of himself as Critter, since there are ways that the humor of his character could be elevated through placing him in funny backgrounds with extra characters to play off.
Once Knifeslingin' gets going, it is as funny as anything I’ve seen in this year's Cincinnati Fringe Festival.