Josh Dunn’s The Sh*t Show: Misconceptions and Nuggets of Truth Deep Within seems like more of a personal rant than a dramatic one person theatre piece, but it certainly highlights some interesting questions concerning society’s treatment of people who are differently-abled. It also unleashed a torrent of issues for me concerning political correctness and human kindness and “othering” and the essence of theatricality.
First of all, if someone sits onstage and speaks to an audience- is it inherently theatre? Should I regard Dunn as a character speaking to me as distinct from Dunn himself, even though I am fairly certain that he was not “performing” this piece in that sense of the word? Yet, he is still a performing object, which makes him disparate from the person he is when he is not on the stage. So, if I say that the character who is presented to us in The Sh*t Show is difficult to like and to have empathy for and comes across as being entitled and arrogant, can this criticism be divorced from seeming like a personal attack on Dunn the person, who I have never met and have no basis upon which to judge? This is my conundrum.
Since The Sh*t Show has been presented to me as a work of theatre and Dunn as a performing object, I have chosen to write about him as the protagonist in the story that he is presenting to me. This is, of course, the way I always review one person shows- the actor always transforms themselves into a theatrical entity just by being present on the stage in front of an audience. Why do I feel like I need to justify myself or explain myself in the case of Dunn? Good question.
As the protagonist to this story Dunn is telling onstage, this character presents himself as a complex enigma. He is passionate in his desire not to be defined by his cerebral palsy- yet he doesn’t think he should have to work because he is an “artist.” He blames his inability to be a successful stand up comedian on the public’s perception of his disability, without taking into consideration his own talent or skill level as a comic or the dozens of other obstacles comedians of all kinds encounter in the business every day. He makes a compelling case for the need to normalize and integrate those with disabilities more fully into our society and speaks about how ostracized many with disabilities feel, especially in their desire to fulfill their sexual needs. Yet, it is difficult to know whether this protagonist encounters rejection from women because he has cerebral palsy or because he comes across as bitter, arrogant and misogynistic.
Yet, what makes this piece even more interesting is that this character we have encountered is entirely human. He is flawed and, of course, has all the same rights to behave in this way as someone who doesn’t have cerebral palsy. Does this make him an unfit “representation” for his cause? Should he be seen as having to be a “representation” of his “cause”? Doesn’t my need to find a way to say how I feel about this “play” while being politically correct showcase that my instinct is to treat Josh Dunn differently than I would treat someone else who sat onstage and ranted at me arrogantly in a way that was almost completely devoid of theatricality and narrative? Exactly. Perhaps this is the point.
I found The Sh*t Show difficult to sit through in parts, it pushed my buttons, it didn’t challenge me to examine my preconceived notions necessarily, certainly not in the way one would expect, but instead it forced me to delve far beyond binaries and to enter a muddy ground that made me feel like a bit of an asshole, but not for the reasons I was expecting. This piece and Josh Dunn in it would make the beginnings of a really great Bouffon character. I am not sure if that was what Dunn had in mind when he conceived this performance, but if his intention was to alienate his audience into challenging him, he certainly succeeded.
the sh*t show: Misconceptions and Nuggets of Truth Deep Within played at the Museum of Natural History as part of the Atlantic Fringe Festival and has closed.