Hollywood Fringe 2019
Seeing the light, and fleeing the church.
“Squeeze My Cans” premiered at the Hollywood Fringe in 2016 and now it’s back for an encore run this year after touring Fringe circuits all around the world. Detailing her harrowing personal experience as a member of the Church of Scientology, Cathy Schenkelberg’s wince-inducing story and sharp performance are each worthy of your attention.
We follow Schenkelberg from the beginning as a young actor from a big family in Nebraska trying to find her place and how the signals from the church which seemed like fate chiming in gradually caught her attention. As a natural-born skeptic of just about everything, I’ve always wondered how anyone gets snookered into giving up their time and money into any organization littered with red flags, but with Schenkelberg’s story, I was able to find some empathy for her open-mindedness and eagerness to belong somewhere. We watch as she rolls with the unusual flow. Unlike other Scientology tell-alls that dive straight into the most horrendous aspects of the church (which are often rebuked by the church), this one goes into great detail about the odd banalities of the organization which are as mesmerizing as they are batty.
Schenkelberg is a gifted performer. She flies through this show like a bullet with a frenetic energy that keeps the audience on edge. Along the way, we get a taste of her voice-over acumen, her lovely singing voice, and her seamless assumption of multiple characters along the way. Whatever your views on Scientology are, there’s no denying that her own journey getting in and out of the church was a long and damaging one to both her social life and to her checking account. It’s sometimes difficult to watch, but it makes for an excellent cautionary tale.
Director Shirley Anderson keeps Schenkelberg’s performance moving like a machine, nicely aided by some excellent sound and projection designs from Victoria Deiorio which add significantly to the collage-like presentation of the show. Schenkelberg has performed this show many times and it shows; her inert rhythm is second-nature.
On the whole, the show could use a trim, but it’s still an impressive piece of work. Full of head-scratching true tales and anxiety-releasing laughter, “Squeeze My Cans” is a tough story told with precision and grace, and by the time it’s all over, it might just get your needle floating. -ZACHARY BERNSTEIN