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Squeeze My Cans goes for the Gold at the Fringe

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Wow.

That’s about the most apropos comment across the board on Squeeze My Cans, Cathy Schenkelberg’s riveting, heart wrenching and ultimately redeeming tale of her decade plus involvement with Scientology.

Wow to the account of her descent into the Kafkaesque universe of L. Ron Hubbard’s “religion” that first seeks to entice and then consume all that come within its grasp.

Wow to the price both financially and emotionally the cult cost her.

Wow to her eventual struggle to free herself and her daughter from the prison of its poison “philosophy.”

Wow to Shirley Anderson’s masterful direction that weaves the maelstrom of Schenkelberg’s narrative; placing it before the audience with both stunning craft and crystal clarity.

cathys.jpgAnd an especially gargantuan Wow to Schenkelberg’s stellar performance, possibly the best in the Fringe I’ve seen, as she recounts her story in harrowing detail, leading us down the rabbit hole of engrams, auditing and clearing into a madness closer to Dante than Lewis Carroll.

The “Cans” in the play’s title refers to the hand grips of the electropsychometer, known as the E-meter; a bio-feedback device used by Scientologists know as auditors. This position was what Schenkelberg was training for, thus giving her solo show a very different feeling than any other expose on the “church.”

The 2015 documentary Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Beliefwhich dissected with great precision the contemptible practices of the “church” was shocking to view. But Squeeze My Cans is an immensely personal account focusing on the insidious means used in Schenkelberg’s own indoctrination, permitting us to witness how her own best intentions were woven into the web ensnaring her.

Scientology’s goal is the stripping away from an individual everything in their life not connected to the church, until there is nothing left for them but to serve as an appendage to the organization.

By understanding how Schenkelberg, the bright, attractive young actress just starting her career, was drawn into the Scientology labyrinth, we are able to recognize our own vulnerability and face the unpleasant truth that we ourselves could have been enticed to the same edge and made to suffer the same fall.

One may already be of the opinion that Scientology is a dangerous cult, but in Schenkelberg’s recounting how the “church” methodically isolated her from family, betrayed her into surrendering to their virtual control of every aspect of her life, and exploited her insecurities to compel her to spend nearly a million dollars on Scientology courses, (often with the “church” arranging bank loans for her to pay for them) we are exposed, in the most visceral fashion, to the unbelievable maliciousness of this organization.

If H.P. Lovecraft had been a business writer instead of the author of fantasy horror, the Church of Scientology would have been his version of Cthulhu, Inc.

gold.jpgSqueeze My Cans is a show that needs to be seen both as a warning to the type of wanton evil that is allowed to exist in this society, and as a tribute to the human spirit’s ability to survive and overcome those monsters that we must all, one day, face in life.

A well-deserved:  GOLD.


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An award-winning L.A. playwright and rabble-rouser of note who has hoisted glasses with Orson Welles, been arrested on three continents and once beat up Charlie Manson. His first play, Among the Vipers was a semi-finalist in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition and was featured in the Carnegie-Mellon Showcase of New Plays. It was produced at the NPT Theater in Ashland, Oregon and Los Angeles’ celebrated Odyssey Ensemble Theatre. His following play, “The Little Boy Who Loved Monsters” was produced at The Hollywood Actors Theater, where he earned praise from the Los Angeles Times for his “…inordinately creative writing.” The play went on to numerous other productions including Berlin’s The Black Theatre under the direction of Rainer Fassbinder who wrote in his program notes of Kearney, “He is a skilled playwright, but more importantly he is a dangerous one.” Ernest Kearney has worked as literary manager or as dramaturge for among others The Hudson Theater Guild, Nova Diem and the Odyssey Ensemble Theatre, where he still serves on the play selection committee. He has been the recipient of two Dramalogue Awards and a finalist or semi-finalist three times in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition. His work has been performed by Michael Dunn, Sandra Tsing Loh, Jack Colvin and Billy Bob Thornton, and to date, either as playwright or director, he has upwards of a hundred and thirty productions under his belt, including a few at the Bob Baker Marionette Theater as puppeteer. After a wild and misspent youth, which lasted well into middle age, Kearney has settled down and is focusing on his writing, as well as living happily ever after with his lovely wife Marlene. Ernest's stage reviews and social essays can be found at TheTVolution.com and workingauthor.com. Follow him on Facebook.

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