in my humble opinion

Fringe 2007 - Review - Christmas In Bakersfield - 5 stars

“People always ask me three things - Is this story true? Are you still together? And did you ever have a chance to get him back?”

Get him back for what, you ask? Oh, Les’ boyfriend Mike takes him home for holidays with the family, in conservative Republican Bakersfield, and neglects to mention beforehand to everyone that Les is black. Oops. Awkward.

Les Kuykendall brings us a remount of last year’s popular Christmas In Bakersfield, which was great news for me, because I got to share it with Mom. She thinks he’s a great storyteller, and I agree. Les was one of a number of pleasant surprises in last year’s Fringe for me. After several years of missing his shows but finding him charming in person, I finally caught Christmas In Bakersfield. One’s always worried, the first time you go to see a friend’s show, will they be good? I want to like them. No worries. Les was fantastic. (We were five minutes late dashing over from another venue (that’s what we get for talking to people afterward), but thankfully we’d seen the equivalent opening five minutes at the out of towner preview earlier in the week, so we entered to familiar words and knew right where we were in the story.)

Les is beguiling. He loves our Fringe and it shows. He goes to a lot of other Fringes and finetunes his productions on the road, but he loves coming back to Minnesota as his summer home away from home. The man sets you completely at ease as he weaves his universal tale of getting to know the in-laws in all their bewildering glory.

While the story has the additional twists of race and sexual orientation, this isn’t some strident presentation of personal politics. What makes this story work so subversively well is that Les has us loving these goofballs just as much as he does. One can’t make the people we disagree with disappear or instantly change their ingrained behaviors. But by making the political personal, and getting to know “the other,” we have the power to change things for the better from the inside, over time. When the in-laws come to Les’ defense at a holiday party, he realizes he’s won them over, just by being who he is, and not apologizing for it.

Les not only knows how to tell a story, he knows how to work a crowd. He makes it all look so easy, you’re liable to forget what a skilled craftsman he is at what he does. Not all stories are worth telling. Not everybody can tell a joke. Les knows a good story when he sees it and knows how to deliver it. He creates each character in turn and builds a very foreign world around himself.

Christmas In Bakersfield is a fairy tale that starts with “happily ever after” and proceeds from there. Learning to live with someone, and their family, isn’t always easy. But in Les’ hands, it’s always entertaining.

Very Highly Recommended.

Next performance - Tonight, Tuesday 8/7 at 7pm

Remaining performances - Friday 8/10 at 8:30pm and Saturday 8/11 at 4pm

category: 5 Star Shows - Life Altering Experience Tuesday, August 7, 2007 at 11:11 AM

© Matthew A Everett