Growing up gay in Des Moines, Iowa in the 1970’s & 80’s, you’re gonna have some stories. But for writer-performer Shadley Grei, his journey has become a one-man show that is truly dazzling in its head-shaking, jaw-dropping truth.
The Father, The Son & The Holy Sh!t premiered last night at the Fringe Festival in West Hollywood to a standing ovation not just for the play, but for a triumphant soul getting through life with wit and wisdom, even when it served him a shit sandwich.
A giant sticky-note pad and some magic markers on a table define the entire black box set, which quickly becomes a cartoon gallery of moments in Grei’s life, outlining the real events that have defined his relationship with his father, a man who ignored his existence for 34 years, despite letters and cries for acknowledgement and respect.
One moment he’s a young boy, waiting in line for an autograph from his celebrated cartoonist father who doesn’t recognize him, and he goes for the dramatic ‘gotcha’ reveal, only to have the man say, “Give me a jingle some time.” In a later moment, Grei is drunk at holiday party reeling from the fresh loss of dozens of co-workers at the World Trade Center, and ends up side by side with his dear old dad at the urinal. Again he’s not recognized and the profound sadness, confusion and self-doubt pour in, exacerbated by the other son, also at the party, who has everything Grei ever wanted – a show biz career and a doting father. Ouch!
In fact, it’s not until Grei decides he’s done with Daddy completely and just wants to move on, that the play takes an unexpected turn, soaring to new heights with both a spectacular father-son reunion, and a whole new load of familial weirdness.
With the sticky notes collecting steadily on the theater wall like some twisted graphic novel scrapbook, Grei runs the audience headlong into the tidal wave of life with him, an enduring metaphor that pays off in the end when he readjusts his grown-up lens to become the wave.
The Father, The Son emerged partly from a series of stories published at The Good Men Project and a short performance piece at The Moth. The show will run at the Fringe in West Hollywood June 9, 12, 19, 24 & 25 after which it moves to Des Moines, which of course begs the question – will his father attend? We can only hope for a sequel.
Along with producer Sarah Mendelsohn, director Brooke Butner and the Tallgrass Theater Company, Grei has pulled off an inspiring play that gives all of us kids who were ignored, bullied or hurt in any way, a big, fat understanding hug. You’re left with an unlikely sense of belonging, and a powerful belief in one of the truest statements of the play: “Fiction needs nuance, reality just wants to fuck with you.”