Hollywood Fringe 2016
Bright prospect tries to make sense of a complicated life.
Drew Vandiver’s journey from rural Georgia to Hollywood and back again, and back again, is interesting and storied, taking in Oxford University, rehab, and managing the world’s largest Victoria’s Secret. The phrase “Based on a true story” would be used if this show were a movie.
Vandiver and his dog Commodore are a double act in the mold of Penn and Teller; one does all the talking and the other manages to look cute and lovable. Commodore also gives this otherwise static and wordy piece some theatricality, he happily makes friends with the audience, being passed from lap to lap, until his master summons him with a soft whistle to do another scripted bit.
The story is one we have heard variations of before; bright young man loses his way, re-traces his steps to find out where he went wrong, and tries to get back on track. It often feels like a motivational talk but without the necessary punchline of “You too can be as successful as me”, because Vandiver is still on his hero’s journey.
The piece has some structure with seeds planted early on bearing fruit later, but I feel it would benefit from further refining; there is lots of (presumably accurate) detail, but that doesn’t necessarily add up to Truth.
Vandiver is a charismatic and skillful storyteller, and the piece is perfectly presented with good lighting and sound support to make it more than a rambling anecdote. There are nuggets of undeniable insight and wisdom, and his reference points range from Socrates to Blake to Willie Nelson.
Although he was an award-winning actor as a student, it is as a screenwriter that he hopes to make his mark, and that skill is to the fore when describing the contrasting environments of rural Georgia and a Hollywood sitcom sound-stage.
This is ultimately an outsider’s story; someone trying to find his place but always feeling like more of an observer than a participant.
The audience I was part of were held in thrall and there was a standing ovation. The piece ends up finding its own form that is something like a live version of an audio book.
Writers are advised to write about what they know, and Vandiver has done that. The fine line between rigorous self-examination and simple self-indulgence is walked carefully. You end up knowing a lot about him that you didn’t need to know, but you’ll maybe know a little bit more about yourself. Recommended.