The last in my two day, five-in-a-row Ottawa Fringe binge at la Nouvelle Scene happened, and it was a bittersweet affair. It was already starting to feel like my new little Fringe home, that shiny, lovely building, and it felt good to get out there for so many shows, when in past years, I shamefacedly admit, I didn’t make it there for as much as I should have. Well, I’ll just have to keep it up by seeing some of their regular season programming (which looks awesome, check it out).
But enough of plugging a local fav’rit, we’re here to talk Fringe! And more specifically, Jake Simonds’ show …LIKE NOBODY’S WATCHING, his meditative, meta-tative solo exploration of what happens when you identify waaaay too much with ‘isolation cinema’. Jake refers to Isolation Cinema as that special subgroup of film in which the hero is alone for a long time, essentially. He namedrops a lot of them in the show, but the main one that forms the almost fanfictional backdrop of the action is CAST AWAY. For my younger readers, Cast Away is a very expensive FedEx commercial that actor Tom Hanks starred in in 2000, involving him being stranded on a deserted island with a volleyball named Wilson for a best pal. It was more fun than it sounds. And it sure seems to have had quite an impact on our Jake, who opens the show in Hanks-esque unkempt beard, loincloth, and his own co-star, a basketball named Spalding.
To be honest, now that I’m writing the scenario, it sounds perfectly ludicrous. A guy digs Cast Away a lot, and makes a show about it? Recipe for disaster, one might think. Except that would be a pretty foolish reduction and misconception of what’s going on here, and would have to overlook several key factors. I mean, from a purely cinematic geek perspective, there’s some awesome reflection on this fascinating subgenre of film Jake seems to have discovered all on his own. Which all segues seamlessly and almost heartbreakingly into an examination of our own unending loneliness in this, the age of never, ever being actually alone.
But the not-so-secret weapon of the show is Jake Simonds himself, who is an almost maddeningly watchable storyteller and performer. The title of the show works on a few levels, as Simonds rattles off his monologues and verbal spars with Spalding as if he really is in utter isolation, and yes I know that’s what acting is SUPPOSED to be, but few can sell it as well as this guy does. The sense of existential despair that emanates from this show is so palpable you could stop a brick with it. That this all comes from an unassuming, gangly, bush-bearded movie nerd in a homemade Tarzan nappie is so amazing and insane it really couldn’t be more perfect. This is a smart, funny and poignant show that stays with you, weighs on you, and makes you feel, hopefully, just a little bit less alone. Peace, love and soul,