Why We Don't Bomb the Amish
This review first ran on February 2, 2000, for the show's previous production at St. Marks Theater.
There are many reasons to bomb the theater: it can be boring, pretentious, and as emotionally satisfying as flat beer. There are as many reasons to bomb standup comedy: stale material, a lack of originality, watered-down drinks. But in her new one-woman show , performer/writer Casey Fraser plants herself at the crossroads where standup and theater meet, cooling a cynical temper with her mixture of punch lines and wisdom.
Fraser starts weakly, inching onto the stage and engaging the audience with standard comic introductions, inquiring how the audience feels and commenting on the weather. But after a few minutes, she hits her stride talking about New York as a Mecca of misplaced anger. She keenly observes the insanities of daily life in the city, waxing comically on train musicians and the public ritual of covering one's nose with a convenient flap of clothing when an offending stink fills the subway car.
Her tirades are divided into segments, with transitions marked by Fraser's imitation of a recorded phone operator announcing that "your call is important to us". This device serves as a convenient way to divvy the hour-long show into bite-sized morsels, in addition to resonating its cynical life-on-hold theme. Throughout her performance, Fraser laments the loss of passion and the cruel change that accompany growing up. Having grown up in the seedy, multi-cultural jambalaya that was the East Village, she re-invents the neighborhood as a character of sorts: childhood friends who are reunited after years apart and barely recognize the other. Repackaged and consumer-friendly, she laments the loss of the city's honest sleaze and humanity.
All of this, by the way, induces chuckles and eye-rolls of familiarity, even as she flirts with the absurd. At one point, she adopts the persona of a sex fiend-busting Mickey Mouse, unearthing and exposing the last Times Square peep-show pervert. We spend our lives on hold, she suggests, and while we while away the hours with Bell Atlantic, the world contorts and changes.
So, why don't we bomb the Amish? Because they're smarter than the rest of us. Their culture thrives in continually shifting times because they hold fast to their beliefs and they know how to give a tourist a thrill. Fraser earned the biggest belly laugh from implying that David Koresh would have met a less flammable end if he had built a gift shop instead of a walled compound.