Happiness is … “Jack Benny” at The Fringe

By Ernest Kearney  —  Jack Benny (A Ménage En Train) is the first perfect Fringe show of 2018.

What does that entail?

It is superbly performed, excellently staged, intelligently conceived and was so entirely unexpected that I left The Three Clubs feeling very much like a goose that had been caught aside of the head with a hard-swung two-by-four.

First of all, a warning — this show has nothing to do with Jack Benny.

Well, maybe an inch worth of Jack Benny in what is a Great Wall of Dada-esque riffing.

While there is only a little “Jack Benny,” there is a great deal of Raymond Roussel, the eccentric French author whose works are nearly an impenetrable cauldron of paronomastic tomfoolery and layers of homographic wordplay that served as an inspiration to some of the early surrealists.

Originating from that busy hive of talent the Padualab, the piece was written in a robust round-robin fashion by Gray Palmer, Juli Crockett and Guy Zimmerman, the artistic director of the Padua Playwrights Productions. This body of writers, using a line of an old Jack Benny radio routine as their jumping off point, added and built, shared and shaped, discarded and discovered, edited and revised.

Shaughn Buchholz, Gray Palmer, Jenny Greer and Juli Crockett are four passengers on a train whose actions are driven by recordings of overlaid dialogue, that then goes on to restate the recordings in a loop that forms the verbal equivalent of one of those intricately laid out triple-spiral constructs of 15,000 dominoes that go tipping over with a flick of a finger; causing motifs to bound across the stage in an almost slapstick fashion as it falls against and propels itself in a collapsing coil.

Visible and verbal imagery overarch, amplifying and reinforcing lines poetically framed which frolic with dopey non-sequesters:


“The first bit of dying starts when you say hello – ”

“There’s no such thing as clean underwear anymore – ”


All the while Brian Tichnell, with a voice as richly rumbling as a young Orson Welles supplies a narrative that functions like a series of Zen koans delivered by “Henny” Youngman.

What is it about?

Platinum MedalI have no idea.

I was thoroughly puzzled, and unreservedly entertained.

Crockett, who directs and, her cast have woven an intellectual treasure map, on the stage of the Three Clubs, from some seriously silly thread.

I suggest everyone go and hunt out the hidden booty for themselves, and “X” marks the spot of a PLATINUM MEDAL for this effort.


♦    ♦    ♦

Jack Benny (A Ménage En Train)

Is playing During the Hollywood Fringe 2018 at

The Three Clubs

1123 North Vine Street

For Information, Tickets and Reservations Go To


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Written by

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. Kearney remains focused on his writing, as well as living happily ever after with his lovely wife Marlene. His stage reviews and social essays can be found at TheTVolution.com and workingauthor.com. Follow him on Facebook.

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