By Samuel J. Cox
Hipster-beau & cool guy Kerouac wrote that ‘it’s not the words that count, but the rush of what is said’. I’m not too sure what he was on about with that one, because master storyteller Brian Finkelstein’s darkly comic Fringe show proved that words absolutely count (Dracula style).
Brought to Perth by Barefaced Stories, the Emmy nominated writer & host of The Moth LA StorySLAMS took us on an emotional rollercoaster that I rate as the best Fringe show I’ve seen this year.
Without regard for the stigma surrounding suicide, Finkelstein shared his poignant first-person narrative about working the late shift at a 24hr suicide hotline in New York. Before you dismiss the show because of its theme, be aware that it is (tastefully) hilarious.
With black hair the colour of a black Crayola crayon, & as tall as a six-foot-three-inch tree, he performed in the exact style of the late Spalding Grey, sitting at a desk before an unopened script, with a scarcely needed microphone & a glass of water, his commanding voice dominated the intimate space of the black box theatre.
The ripping yarn begins at Queen’s university, where Finkelstein was a weed-smoking student studying Psychology & Philosophy. The desire to do some prac work for the sake of his resume led him to Glenn (hilariously voiced by Finkelstein himself). This aggressively passive aggressive ex-hippy ran the humanitarian hotline, & his rigorous training program saw the pool of approximately 60 potential volunteers cut down to four. Finkelstein went on to become a veteran volunteer at the hotline with four years of experience, having mastered the art of being an ‘intimate stranger’.
Finkelstein then shares the details of his own suicide attempt story, which injects the tale with openness & honesty. At its heart, the show deals with Finkelstein’s conversation with a 22-year-old student called Amy. Having been called in on his first day off in a long time, Finkelstein draws you in to share this intense saga, so that you truly feel for this young woman who has just swallowed a handful of painkillers. Not because she wants to kill herself, but because she ‘just wants the pain to stop.’ She gives all the wrong answers to the questions Glenn taught Finkelstein to ask:
‘Have you thought about killing yourself?’
‘Have you thought about how you would do it?’
‘Have you set a time?’
‘Have you taken any steps today to kill yourself?’
The tragic end is as intensely upsetting as the Red Wedding in ‘Game of Thrones.’
Finkelstein recalls the little details perfectly (from which book he was reading, to the Snickers bar he had in his pocket), & this (apparent) authenticity of fact adds to the tale.
Although Finkelstein & Amy never met, each had a profound impact upon the life of the other, & Finkelstein admits he remembers her everyday, knowing that he was the last person that this woman ever spoke to. He never worked the hotline again.
This fast-talking, witty, charismatic raconteur made the incredible hour fly by, & he just knew when to pause, when to let something sink in, when to make a joke, & when to get real.
As a successful enterprise, this is on par with the fall of Isengard at the hands of the Ents (one of the greatest tactical military operations in the history of the Third Age). The mix of light & shade will have you tearing up & laughing manically. The show concludes with some real talk, which alone is worth the ticket.
First Day Off In A Long Time runs February 18 – 22 @ The Blue Room Theatre through Fringe World.
To read our interview with Brian Finkelstein, follow this link: http://www.colosoul.com.au/thearts/theatre/interview-with-brian-finkelstein/