James Judd is that guy you meet at a party and end up spending the whole night listening to and laughing with in a corner. In Funny Stories 2, the second edition of his first showing at last year’s Capital Fringe, that party is Caos on F.
Judd possesses a natural charisma, borne of an awkward childhood and ill-fated experiences as a young adult, all which he nakedly bares to a raptured audience, even as some tales are better than others.
Through his performance and an effective smattering of lighting, sound effects, and music, you feel that pear-shaped 10-year-old kid he was, the kind of boy who would scour Berkeley, California with his dog, Brownie, searching for clues to the whereabouts of then kidnapped newspaper heiress Patty Hearst.
It’s his obsession with Hearst that prompts his first tale, of the 1975 Foothills Elementary School’s 5th Grade Book Report Competition where Judd was pitted against his nemesis, the popular and untalented Mary Applebaum.
While Applebaum selected “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott, Judd chose “My Search for Patty Hearst” by Steven Weed, and captures his classmates with tales of the kidnapping, a blackboard sketch of the Symbionese Liberation Army logo, and an assignment where they all wrote their own ransom notes.
Judd’s ability to expertly combine vulnerability and comedy is evident in his last story of how he made his first friend in New England.
Truth be told, he debuted this story at last year’s Capital Fringe, but I see why he’s chosen to retell it – it’s hilarious. I couldn’t do it any justice in summary, but know that it involves a gay shark diving trip and a woman named Meg.
Funny Stories 2
Choreography by: Diana Movius, Kimberly Parmer, Florian Rouiller and Katya Vasilaky
at GALA Theatre at Tivoli Square
3333 14th Street NW
Washington, DC, 20010
Details and tickets
It’s his second story that poses the biggest challenge as a teller of funny stories, because it’s quite sad.
Judd recounts how, as a young gay man, he fell for a dermatologist with a “Dick Tracy chin and eyes like a Labrador puppy” who was working to remove Judd’s mistake of a tattoo. Despite his greatest hopes, Dr. Dean Faiello doesn’t know he exists, even when Judd visits him over three years for the laser removal.
Judd then learns through news reports that Faiello is actually a cocaine and synthetic morphine addict, and a former construction worker who faked being a doctor, he says. What’s more, a patient died of complications under his care and her body was found buried under the cement floor of Faiello’s garage. After fleeing the country, his extradition and trial, Faiello was found guilty of first degree assault and sent to Attica Prison in upstate New York for 20 years.
And that’s where Judd visits him years later. They talk for a long time, Faiello shows remorse, and both are helped by the meeting. Faiello can share his feelings of guilt and finds solace in the first person to visit him in prison. Meanwhile Judd finds closure to an experience, and a man, that he has obsessed over for years.
But funny this story is not, and hopefully the audience will understand that the laughter and tears are often impossible to separate. Part one man act, part first-person narrative, part public diary entry, Funny Stories 2 is worth the visit.