“Oatmeal and a Cigarette” more than satisfies

I should not smile and giggle when a thirty year old man with a full beard and dread locks proclaims that he “made a poopie.”

But I did. Again and again.

Succinctly stated, this show is brilliant. It’s funny, it’s dark, it’s poignant – all of the things a Fringe-goer has come to expect.

Written by award-winning New York playwright George Sapio, “Oatmeal” explores issues of exploitation, repressed memories, regression, and the power that human instinct holds over every decision we make.

Mommy Claire (played to absolute perfection by Karl Gregory) exacts his need for redemption from his past by “raising” his thirty year old brother, Billy, as a three year old boy. He changes diapers. He sings lullabies. He uses love and protection as weapons against Billy’s emerging desires to explore the world around him, inciting fear and guilt to control the child-like man.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Babysitter Jane utilizes the promise of fulfilling Billy’s increasing curiosities as a means to further her own agenda – a thesis centered on Billy, exploiting his bizarre regressed state for personal success. Madeline Maher is spot on- you will not catch this woman acting. She sucks you in until you find yourself cheering for her, even as your heart melts for the pathetic man she is manipulating before your eyes.

And then there is Billy. Or “William,” as his adult persona would have him to be known. Daniel J. Kiely is nothing short of genius in this role. From the moment he opens his mouth, you believe he is, in fact, the embodiment of a preschool-age child. Kiely leaves the stage for only one short scene in the entire sixty-five minute production, and his energy and commitment to this character never wavers. He is a prisoner in his own body, a victim of conflicting human instincts for security and freedom, safety and choice, mother’s love and sexuality. You can’t help but pity him as he rapidly moves towards emotional implosion.

Director Melissa Thompson has staged a beautiful, haunting dark comedy, ably bringing raw human emotion to the surface. Massive kudos to cast and crew - when I feel more like a voyeur than an audience member, I know something is being done right. “Oatmeal” is thus far my personal pick for the very best of Fringe.

The show is being staged at The Coffee Emporium. Opening night was over halfway sold out, and I expect that buzz will fill the remainder of the seats. Get there early, have a coffee, and bring a sweater – the store is chilly, but works wonderfully as a performance venue.