It is no secret that the camera can sap the energy out of a performance. Enter Martin Dockery, an intense and inventive storyteller from Brooklyn, New York, capable of packing the mania that an online Fringe experience demands. (Cincinnati Fringe Festival audiences may recognize Dockery from 2015’s Moonlight After Midnight.)
Dockery’s Forbidden City!, an autobiographical one-man show recorded in September 2019, begins with a hefty bit of set-up and slice-of-life observational humor. For example, the simple table and chair of his set are not what he had in mind — “Arggh! IKEA, am I right?!” He restarts the show. Still isn’t satisfied, restarts it again. Steps off stage to restart it once more — as we will learn, beginnings are important.
As off-the-cuff and organic as he makes it all feel, Dockery is always in charge of his story, which eventually winds its way to the palatial Forbidden City in Beijing, China. In his tale, Dockery and his wife have journeyed to the not-as-Forbidden-as-advertised City, and Dockery has committed to writing a show about whatever happens during their visit. If nothing interesting occurs … well, then audiences will be subjected to a show with Sam Kinison-style shouting about cargo pants and malfunctioning audio guides, and they’ll simply have to share in his frustrations.
Venting, in Dockery’s eyes, is crucial — without it, the frustrations “accumulate like little mollusks, little clams and mussels on the hull of your spirit.”
But just when it looks as though we are going to receive the Seinfeld version replete with rants about in-flight movies, the show swivels. Dockery invites us into deeper (though no less entertaining) waters, into his personal life and the important beginnings that he has recently experienced. Forbidden City! is laugh-out-loud, even-at-home funny, but a more compelling power lies in Dockery’s (relatively) quiet moments, which elevate this stand-up show into a meditation on the ways life can surprise us — even when we can see it coming.
The 17th annual all-digital Cincinnati Fringe Festival runs through June 13. Get tickets and show info at cincyfringe.com.