- La Filia di Mussolini, and Other Stories
- Reviewed by Hunter Styles
The fun of long-form solo comedy lies in the journey, not the destination. Ashley Strand knows this as he paces, frets, and giggles his way through his newest show. La Filia di Mussolini, and Other Stories is a relaxed, endearing, sometimes meandering triptych of memories that pays tribute to our most formative personal encounters.
The Playbill Café’s stage area seats just over two dozen, and for the most part Ashley Strand (yes, he knows it’s a girl’s name) takes advantage of the cozy space. At eight o’clock he wanders in, lacking any clear costume or uniform, and ensures that viewers are comfortable. “I’m going to tell you some stories tonight,” he says. If his show is a meal, this humble sweep of introduction is the soft, worn tablecloth.
Strand is tall bordering on gangly, with enthusiastic eyeballs and restless hands. His giddy, plaintive demeanor echoes the sporadically shrill persona of stand-up great David Cross. At times of excitement, traversing the stage in long strides while sawing the air, Strand takes up literally half the room. This would feel invasive if he weren’t such a charmer, grinning sheepishly and sharing in the audience’s laughter at self-deprecating interludes.
The title story comes first, although it is the least strong of the three. It quickly becomes clear why Strand’s ex-girlfriend is nicknamed “Mussolini’s Daughter,” and this one has some clever moments despite being stretched too thin for a half-hour monologue. The second story, “My First Blowjob,” is more richly entertaining, veering into a bizarre and very funny dissection of personal politics in Sarasota’s gay theater scene. The final show, “My Philosophy of Comedy,” is a poignant description of growing up in the shadow of a heroic older sibling.
The small venue feeds the feeling of organic story sharing. Because of this, though, Strand could stand to retain a stronger sense of separation from the audience to make sure the stories don’t slip off their tracks for too long. Ironically, in these instances a higher level of theatricality would help. Strand has yet to embrace his deadpan – a useful tool for this show. His impressions of characters, too, are in the right vein, but each could use a couple seconds more of committed physicality.
It is to Strand’s credit, however, that the show feels like a warm night of anecdotes around the dinner table. The single red chair onstage matches the red chairs in the audience. Latecomers may expect a friendly recap of the story thus far. Is it really this simple? Yes, and such an unstrained interest in the storytelling itself is a refreshing change of pace from some of the weightier experiments in chiaroscuro that ensnare solo performers with low budgets and grand notions of atmosphere. La Filia di Mussolini is a rewarding amount of fun, memorable for its natural humor, as well as for the casual charm of its more roughly stitched edges.
- Running Time: 90 minutes
- Tickets: La Filia di Mussolini
- Remaining Shows: Fri, July 25 at 8 . Sat, July 26 at 8 . Sun, July 27 at 8
- Where: 1409 Playbill Cafe, 1409 14th Street, NW