I have seen the Harry Penix, and I’ll never feel quite the same…about half-melted ice cream, or frosted cupcakes. That naughtiest of charming, shape-shifting sprites, John Michael, summons forth — from the dark bowels of 24 year old male reflection — a tale that’s part personal history, part AIDS awareness fantasy. And all sparkly, crinkly, gooey, luscious live theatre, in 3D, no glasses required, rosy or otherwise. I don’t know where this junior wizard of a story-teller/ monologist/ solo stage performer is heading with the cornucopia of creative soul-searching he spews forth every so often. What sort of performances will he create when he’s 35? 55? Will they brim over then with as much joy and hope as now? In the meantime…
John Michael’s current show? It’s too long. The prologue, delivered in the unbearably hot, cramped Magnolia Theatre Lobby, is self-indulgent and unnecessary. But once the audience settles into chairs in the theatre and our gangly, heroic “muggle” (a Harry Potter term) crawls out, snake-wise, from under the seat risers and launches into spinning his tale, magic happens. Real onstage magic, where a performer whisks away his audience on a special carnival ride of the imagination.
John Michael has grown since I last viewed his work. His confidence in and use of performance craft have graduated from college, as he now has. There are actual pauses in his breathless recitation, moments when the audience gets to soak in the emotional affect of the transformations he undergoes. He writes with careful wit and gentle irony, some parts in direct exhortation to the audience, other parts more narrative in style. The piece often doubles back on itself in a beguiling manner, laced with improbable layers of the meta-theatrical and humorous, ending in quiet revelation of personal truth. The front row audience participation could not work any better. I’m not spoiling it here by revealing its nature. Reference intro ice cream and cupcake remark above. Gallagher could learn much from John Michael. Hint, hint, wink.
At some point in his prancing parade, our “muggle” John Michael quotes Dumbledore from a Harry Potter film. “Fear of a name only increases fear of the thing itself.” He reveals himself as unpredictable, outrageous, indefatigable and amazingly courageous in his one-man creations. Embrace the artist and his art with equal fervor. There is much truth and hope here and absolutely nothing to fear. Directed by Matt Tomlanovich and Grace Keller Scotch.
“John Michael and the Order of the Penix” runs through April 13 at Nouveau 47, located in the Magnolia Lounge in Fair Park.
Performances: Thursdays through Saturdays: 7:45pm.
All performances: pay-what-you-can and BYOB.
The Magnolia Lounge in Fair Park (1121 First Ave. Dallas, TX 75210)
RSVP: (214) 810-3605