By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
The Ballad of Frank Allen (Stage 13, Old Strathcona Public Library)
In the international register of theatre premises (small-cast musical comedy division), here’s an entry that should get its own citation: what if a tiny man lived in another man’s beard?
In The Ballad of Frank Allen, a methodical janitor doing his job in a lab accidentally flips a switch and gets miniaturized. Frank finds himself in residence in the beard of a slacker dude named Al, currently working at Cheezy Meatz. If you think male-bonding premises have been wrangled as far as they can possibly go, think again. An unusual — let’s be bold and call it unique — buddy/odd-couple roommate sitcom is born.
Frank the janitor (Shane Adamczak the playwright) is resilient. He assesses his situation and looks on the bright side. Since Al is such a sloppy eater, “I eat like a king.” He sets up a makeshift hammock in the beard forest. And he sets about training the vaguely aspirational but hopelessly ineffectual Al “not to do stupid things,” particularly vis-a-vis women.
As for Al, he’s completely unaware of his new companion and lifestyle coach until the night of the tequila shots. Al can suddenly hear Frank, but only when they’re both drunk, a prototype for male-bonding adventures world-wide.
This kooky sitcom has to struggle to live up to its premise, and never really does, in truth. The plot strains at the seams to be sufficiently outlandish and bizarre. Al’s series of job descriptions are one-liners inserted to be give the piece some comic heft.
But the ballads, both solos and duets, are well-crafted, and inspired. They’re intense, performed with gusto by Adamczak and Lafrance. Some are touching. Some have the kind of loony commitment to the material that seems exactly the right way to spin a premise that wears its quirkiness up front, bold, and, er, full facial.
As seen at the Winnipeg Fringe.