This is One Shitty Party isn't. But it isn't great either. The Fringe offering from New York City’s Endless Chili Productions bills itself as an immersive, interactive show about a 30th birthday party where the audience plays the role of guests and friends. And you’re not expected to just walk in as you. That would be too easy — and safe. No, upon entrance you’re given a nametag and a small back story detailing your weirdness and what you think of the birthday boy, the mysterious and rarely seen Barry Sanders.
Turns out, Barry is kind of an asshole. So is it any wonder his friends tend to be, too? Worse still, the man of the hour phones in his arrival, saying he’s running late. So he asks four of his closest “friends,” the Endless Chili troupe, to get the party started. Actors Timmy Wood, Megan Venzin, Julie Gomez and Fang Du try admirably if unsuccessfully to do just that over the next 45 minutes.
Let me be clear: I really wanted to like it. I was a fan of Shitty Party co-creator Venzin since her 2010 Cincy Fringe show, A Night of Well Adjusted Ladies. I also think Shitty Party is a great concept, so worthy of the Fringe and ripe for entertaining possibilities not usually experienced through a night of traditional theater. But the show failed those expectations.
I point to three main culprits. First, the Coffee Emporium space, which seemed an ideal location for a social gathering set-show, just didn’t work on opening night. Sure to be the envy of the other Fringe acts, Shitty Party was actually too crowded to work. Audience members were crammed in too tightly to wander the crowd and fully explore the other characters. And because it was a party (albeit a shitty one), the din of the conversation at times overwhelmed the scripted moments that had to be heard to give the piece its momentum.
Second, I felt like the show was a little under-written. The framework was set up to create moments onstage between the cast members and then use party games to get the audience up, moving and interacting. It was a shame that the unscripted parts were so much better than the planned bits.
The third reason for those failed expectations was an absolutely horrible ending. Like, really bad. I’ll concede it was designed to be that bad to live up to the show’s title. But good gravy, there had to be a better way than Barry’s last transmission to us. Ugh.
All this said, many parts of Shitty Party had me giggling. I’m even giggling a little as I recall them now. I remain in awe of the actors’ encyclopedic knowledge of all the party guests’ backstories. Watching people dive in and have fun with that aspect was a real hoot, as was the worst line-dance ever and the trust exercise. So Shitty Party truly isn’t all shitty. And it’s entirely possible that it gets less shitty with each performance. At least until they throw you out.
PERFORMANCE SCHEDULE: 9:15 p.m. June 5 and 7 p.m. June 7 at Coffee Emporium. Find more of CityBeat's ongoing 2013 Cincy Fringe Festival coverage, including performance reviews, commentary and venue details, here.