Tuck your polo shirt into your khaki pants, adjust you nametag and prepare to nod and smile your way through a world where the customer is always right, or so they think, and Christmas feels closer to hell. This is the world of the retail soldier.
Pete Wright has spent the past 20 years in the trenches of American consumerism fighting to understand human nature and make a buck. Between writing a book, also called “Surviving Retail”, and trying to pursue dreams of being a singer/songwriter, the world of retail has been a constant in Wright’s’s life. Armed with a ukulele and an easel pad of paper full of illustrations and words to emphasize points, Wright takes the audience on a journey through the different jobs he has held since entering retail boot camp as a teenager. He has found himself working in a Dollar Store, a head shop, a gas station and a toy store just to name a few. Wright uses his background in songwriting and the ukulele to transition his stories with smart and hilarious ditties that play on words and range from western style songs to a tribute to Slayer.
Glass eyes, dentures, and the most frequently asked question in a Dollar Store are just some of the highlights in Surviving Retail. The show is not just bizarre stories that happen at work; instead, Wright breaks down the actions and mindsets people have when they are shopping and relates them to much larger topics such as being an example to a child, the “me” generation and an honest look at the core reasons for why we act the way we do. Even though the stories deal with extreme personality types, Pete is quick to point out that “no one is crazy or stupid; they are just temporarily interesting.”
The themes are universal, and as an audience member, you can not help but sit there and think about how you act when shopping. The best stories come from his most recent job at a toy store where he exclaims, “If all my years in retail were an amateur degree in sociology, then the toy store is my thesis.” The hilarious stories follow the theme of children and the learned behavior they get from their parents.
While the overall arc and message of the show are well received, Pete’s timing needs a little work. A natural impulse in comedians that are used to smaller audiences or testing material for the first time is to try and jam every joke and story on the page into the show. The arc of the joke and story needs to have some sense of rhythm, timing or sense of control or the audience can have a hard time staying on track.
The best stories and points of view came from the beginning of the show and at the end, but the part after the gadget store explanation could use some repurposing or trimming. The pad of paper used as a visual aid during show seemed cumbersome and could use a stand so as to not distract the performer and the audience.
Overall Surviving Retail takes you on a self reflective journey through the head of America’s consumerist state while delivering witty laughter every step of the way.
Written and Performed by Pete Wright
Produced by Ann Spruill
Reviewed by Kevin Faragher
Running time: 75 minutes
Read all the reviews and check out the full Capital Fringe schedule here.
Did you see the show? What did you think?