The concept is fairly straightforward: first class seats are up front, coach seats are toward the back. The set is simple and sparse: a microphone; a chair; a metal bar cart housing several mini water bottles, some cups and cheap whisky in a plastic jug.
But Alexx Rouse, the mind behind the production, is far from simple. Dressed in a loud flight attendant’s uniform, Rouse greets the audience in character as the enter the space. She’s a bubbly, committed new flight attendant working her very first flight — the last step in the process before she earns her wings and officially becomes a flight attendant.
The production follows an interesting concept. This budget airline flight doesn’t have the money for in-flight entertainment, so Rouse’s job as a new flight attendant is to entertain the “customers” with stories. Using a blend of pre-recorded narration from the pilot as well as several other ambient airplane sound queues, the flight is the narrative structure for Rouse’s solo performance. This narrative device lends both a theme and a convenient way to switch between stories and subjects.
Rouse is an exceptionally engaging performer. She speaks with an almost inhuman rapidness that is carefully practiced enough to be crisp and crystal clear to understand. She has an excellent sense of comedic timing and knows exactly when to go all out, and when to pull back more to create a dynamic performance.
And her stories are funny. They’re relatable and vivid and entertaining to behold, particularly to younger generations. But it’s in that younger appeal that keeps the production from breaking through. At its core, Stow Your Baggage is about a young woman who is learning how to grow into herself and feel comfortable in her skin for the very first time.
At times, it feels like listening to a friend tell a string of stories that each demonstrate the same frustration most young adults have; we feel lost and don’t trust ourselves enough to recognize that we deserve better. It’s a relatable message for sure; just not entirely too complex. It’s in this conclusion that makes Rouse’s show feels more stand-up/TEDTalk than solo performance.
This stand-up/storytelling format is becoming increasingly popular, and it’s clear that it resonates with audiences. Rouse is successful at getting big laughs and quickly pulling out the rug to reflect on more serious topics, encouraging her audience to feel comfortable in both emotional spaces. Stow Your Baggage attempts, and succeeds, at making audiences come for the entertainment and stay for the bigger message, which is a massive part of what makes Fringe shows so great.