Dublin Fringe Festival 2018
Rich White has crocheted a plan to mask his alt-right men’s group as a well-to-do knitting club. Unfortunately, his pallid posse is well cocked-up by a Muslim being shot a few hours before on the uni boys’ inaugural gathering. The characters tiptoe from melodrama to insipid and inspired honesty, they span the gamut of mommy worship and militant power struggles, comprising the full spectrum of comedy and tyranny.
Rich White is holding an open invitation to his alt-right men’s group. A few club rules: be a white male and don’t wear any shady scarfy things on your head…unless you are a stylish cancer survivor. Exposing the lunacy of hate groups, the acerbic satire ultimately strikes a derisive chord. With coke snorted and a Chekhovian gun at the ready, writer Pea Dinneen lampoons white supremacy like a bull in a china shop.
The play is all wit and no tact, “you wouldn’t take the fish out of the water so why would you take the child out of the womb?” Verging on caricatures, these thugs helmed by their leader, Himmler-esque Rich White, elicit near-constant laughter. White’s number two is a womb obsessed goon and their newest addition is the potential psychopath who’s keen on knitting for beginners. They’ll write up a quick manifesto and try to uncover a murderer all in a tight 55 minutes.
White deviates from a traditional farce. Oscar Wilde’s iconic, The Importance of Being Earnest, mocks classicism, inflating the haughty demeanour of aristocrats by exaggerating the views of the wealthy. Christopher Durang, a modern Aristophanes, mocks and humanizes his characters in equal measure. In White the characters lack depth, the boys’ hopes, desires and motives are poorly if ever discussed. Their background lacks detail, let alone complexity. Even their espoused beliefs are often less outrageous than in reality. The Red Pill or Breitbart news offers articles that are far more outrageous. Comparatively, Rich White is an impotent neo-nazi who’d rather chide a fellow member with “go to a Cuaron studies class” than burn books; pound for pound he can’t match playwright Neil LaBute’s misogyny or Martin McDonough’s psychotic cruelty. If the skinheads were to have a kickball league, he would be nobody’s first pick.
The show has all the glee of punching a Nazi and none of the payoff of changing hearts and minds. More Book of Mormon than Mother Courage, the audience could not stop laughing at the antics of these fledgeling militant xenophobes, but is there any lesson to be learned?
Incels are often isolated men, typically men who feel rejected by women be it their relative, friend or desired companion. The anguish and subsequent aggression of incels are perpetuated by humiliation and often social shunning. In America, this has resulted in mass shootings. Bolstered by Donald Trump, their own Rich White in power, violence against marginalized people have escalated. Not only by physical violence but through systematic macro and microaggressions, Muslim suicides have increased dramatically.
With this in mind, the show takes on a different colour. The audience is primarily white and presumably liberal. The writing encourages us to laugh at them, rarely with them. Late in the show, a Muslim woman appears for a blind date and casually informs one of the boys that she’s not interested in him, even while she is being threatened by a gun. She doesn’t take this threat all too seriously, even though another Muslim has been shot only a few hours before. This is inexplicable and revealing. The show has not been developed to take these matters seriously, but they are serious. One cannot help but wonder if a Muslim person were sitting in the audience, would they find this show funny? Would they be frightened? Would they look around at the audience, mostly white, all laughing their brains out, and be terrified of the neutered anti-hero who occupies a space reserved for inept privileged young boys? Even when the killer is revealed, the consequences for him remain a mystery.
The show must be applauded for taking on a topical and sensitive subject and daring to make us laugh. Comedy allows for anything to be skewered and roasted over a pit. The characters are heightened but the circumstances are somewhat trivialized. At times the comedy is a deviant and insightful romp yet its striking lack of empathy for the abused and inability to develop its main characters with greater depth is irresponsible.