By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
Jem Rolls: I, Idiot (Stage 13, Old Strathcona Public Library)
At a festival full of people running around using the word “genre” indiscriminately (even though they really just mean sitcom, say, or musical), the quixotic English poet Jem Rolls has, he feels, invented a new one. His new show I, Idiot is “verbal bouffon.”
This alludes to clowns, but in a Euro, contortionist, avant-gardiste way. It might even be “post-modern.” But, as Rolls helpfully explains at the outset, that elusive term is something “every else understands, apart from you” and will not be mentioned during I, Idiot.
Anyhow, Rolls, a Fringe veteran of many decades standing, has fashioned a show that purports to be an exploratory tour of his own brain. Which, of course, might just as well be said of his other shows, since Rolls is a poet of the roiling, digressive, free-associative rant. His performances accumulate lists — of grievances, of outrages, of cosmic questions — and teases words together into daft but clever re-configurations. And then hurls them at you, non-stop, high-speed, and at top volume.
I, Idiot is also a scientific analysis of the unstoppable, widespread, possibly universal, phenomenon of human stupidity — in detail. In one poem, Clanger Man, for example, Rolls examines the fine distinction between the faux pas and the merely stupid: “if you compliment the chef on the finger bowl, is that a clanger or are you an idiot?”.
When you’re studying human stupidity, nothing is really off-topic. Lucky for Rolls. In the course of I,Idiot, Rolls will spin from the temperamental differences between the English and Canadians, the former revelling happily in misery, the other demonstrating their expertise in the rarefied art of “apologization.” The inspiration to be found in the moronic state of the world is endless: “morality is having about as good a century as Morse code.” As a connoisseur of paradox, Rolls finds a lot to work with in the current climate of untrue truths (try Rolls’s concept of “self-surveillance”).
Rolls is always on a roll. And the exuberant, not to say relentless, staccato hammering of his signature style will not be everyone’s cup of tea. Especially if you haven’t taken a Dramamine beforehand. It doesn’t stop, or even pause, during the interpreter dance sequences, or interpolated clown routine, or moments of “awkward humour.”
Well, at least we can take comfort in our togetherness. We’re Team Idiot, and “no stupid is an island.”