The utterly raw nature of a Fringe production can be its greatest and most exciting asset. And that can be its biggest and sometimes insurmountable challenge. In the case of Just Say Know, it’s a little bit of both.
The fact that one person, a Louisville comedian known simply as De Blenniss wrote it, staged it and performs it is novel and, in the vast majority of theater, unheard of. De Blenniss took it the whole way from idea germ to script to final production. But the problem is, especially in the case of Just Say Know, that lack of theatricality — the piece is more presentation and less performance — makes it less compelling than maybe it could or should have been.
Certainly the subject matter is interesting. The “war on drugs” in this country is reaching its 100-year mark. Is it working, or is it a fool’s errand? De Blenniss conducted a great amount of research, culling information from a variety of sources to present a really well-rounded piece that’s both informative and neatly packaged.
But billing Just Say Know as a comedy show would be disingenuous. It’s light-hearted, for sure, but the back-and-forth banter De Blenniss engages in with his computer program ROBERT (i.e., his PowerPoint presentation) is a little forced. There were good-natured chuckles at the opening night performance, but many jokes fizzled, most notably his “show sponsor” gag and “Mr. Dopeman” song parody.
But where the packaging might have lacked punch, the content certainly made up for it with gusto. Even fairly well read followers of the drug war could learn a bunch. Audiences will walk away with some nice cocktail conversation factoids: (1) Morphine addiction at one time was called “army disease;” (2) Pope Leo XIII endorsed cocaine-laced wine in the mid 1800s; and (3) the CIA tested LSD on unsuspecting black inmates in the 1950s and ’60s.
As De Blenniss sums up toward the end, most of what we know about the drug war is inaccurate. “We don’t know the cost, socially or financially,” he concludes. True that.
It’s all fascinating, to be sure. De Blenniss is knowledgeable and well-spoken. But one might argue he’s too impartial, actually. If he had more of a point of view, more of an opinion, then perhaps the show wouldn’t feel so lecture-like.
It's theater, after all. And Fringe theater at that. Go more out on a limb. Take a stand. Doing so might bring out the needed theatricality.
Still, it’s engaging stuff and provides plenty to discuss over the post-game drinks. There’s no war on alcohol, you know.
(Get upcoming performance dates and venue details here.)