The title of Jessica Ferris’ one woman show, Missing: The Fantastical and True Story of My Father’s Disappearance and What I Found When I Looked for Him (at Know Theatre), would pretty much seem to say it all. And yet, there would be so much, well — missing.
It would miss that the performance opens with one of the most hilarious encounters with a folding chair that I have ever seen. It would miss that Ferris plays an entire cast of supporting family members with an amazing deal of sympathy and range. It would miss that this show starts with smart, quirky comedy, then rightly and righteously ends with anger and the most cold-hearted understanding of what it means to be cold-hearted that you are likely to find.
The show is also scripted with a wealth of deft metaphors that point back to the fact that Ferris’s father turned out to be a con man with litany of aliases as long as the phone book. She repeatedly suggests verbally and visually the desire to slip through tiny spaces, the search for portals, and the urge to move from where you are to someplace new.
This is not a linear show, but more like a hub with spokes. Ferris even addresses this directly in the last 15 minutes of the performance, when she decides to tack hand-drawn images of all the important players in this drama of disappearance on a rotating clothes rack that serves inventively at times as a movie screen.
In the final sequence of the show, Ferris has found her father, oddly enough, through a YouTube posting of a news story that features him as the victim of a scam. The video stutters and repeats on the screen, showing his false amazement at having been conned. At that moment, she knows that her childhood never meant anything to him, but was a one of many distant pasts from which he was determined to escape. And her hurt is deservedly real.
Special mention should also be made regarding composer Mark Orton, whose original music provides a perfect underscoring for the production’s varying tones.
In one sequence, Ferris explains the nature of the sociopath, which she learned from reading a popular trade paperback. The key trait, she states, is lack of feeling and empathy. Her performance at this year’s Fringe Festival would be a great litmus test for that, as it dares us to feel everything.
Missing is not to be missed.