Sunday, November 5, 2023

From the Desk of Jim R, Take 2, Column 436, A Review: "Cheese Fries & Chili Dips" (Seven Angels Theatre)

By James V. Ruocco

To make a one-man comedy show click and resonate, it must have all the necessary ingredients and tools - par for the course - to thrill, track, excite and dramatize its playful subject matter with real-care encounter, floorshow expression, non-stop humor and striking, distinctive focus and orchestration.
It also must house an energetic, think-outside-the-box raconteur whose stories and recollections provide its audience with plenty of context, lots of explanatory notes, running gags, real-life connections, rom-com silliness and stop and go interspersion to make it a fully gratifying experience.
Masterful writing, mixed with dashes of triggered improvisation is yet another key to the elevation and likability of the one-man show effort, its hook, its gait, its excitement and its breezy, adaptable progression.

"Cheese Fries & Chili Dips," the brainchild of Chris Fuller, a former pro golfer who grew up in Weston, Connecticut and now makes his home in Arizona, comes to Seven Angels Theatre with a sure-fire consciousness and laugh-a-minute gallop that is richly moving, homespun theatrical, giggly, imaginative and take-everything-in-stride relatable.

It is appropriate level inspired.
It is fast and admirable.
It is authentic and poignant.
It is feel-good ready.
It strikes a fine balance between self-discovery and autobiographical journey.
It's so much fun, you leave the theatre with a smile.

But first let's backtrack.

Who exactly is Chris Fuller?
And what kind of story does he have to tell?

At the tender age of four, Fuller's passion for golf was sparked by putt-putt games triggered by legendary film star Bette Devis who was actually staying in his home as a "house guest," drinking, swearing, chain smoking, chatting, reminiscing and acting very much like the characters she played in several hit movies including that of Margo Channing ("All About Eve"), Baby Jane Hudson ("Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?") and Charlotte Hollis ("Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte"). 
It's all hilariously recounted in "Me and Jezabel," a hilarious, acerbic, face-to-face memoir written by Fuller's mom Elizabeth (the book has also been transformed into a one-woman show) who tells what transpired the night Davis came to dinner in Weston and ended up staying four weeks due to a hotel strike in Manhattan.
One of the props used in "Cheese Fries & Chili Dips" is the actual kiddy putter that Davis autographed for "Master Christopher," stating "I won - Bette Davis."

At 12, Fuller began playing in various golf tournaments and turned professional at the age of 23 with hopes of making the PGA Tour. Several games followed including the New England, Pepsi, Outlaw, Gateway and Dakota Pro Golf Tours.
Life, however, changed for Fuller, at the age of 26, when he was diagnosed with Bipolar II. Nonetheless, he persevered, found a fallback career and years later, he developed "Cheese Fries & Chili Dips," a comic showcase that portrayed his inspirational, healing and humorous storytelling.

Written by Fuller with original direction by Mark S. Graham, "Cheese Fries & Chili Dips" is rife with imagination, wit and insight that is greatly enhanced by monologues, asides and one-liners that give the theatergoer an insider view of the show's creator, his personality, his identity, his qualifications, his ticks, his quirks, his memories, his trappings and his career.
With a voice that is cynical, heartfelt and observant, Fuller's storytelling technique never loses sight of its details, ideas, story arcs, sentences and cheeky stand-alone quotes.  
He's excited. We're excited. He's an excellent writer who cuts right to the chase with great orchestrated timing and calculation. His reliance on words and situations is admittedly fascinating. He's engaging and entertaining. He's an advocate of finite jest.

A liberating, relaxed and intimate story of hope, inspiration and survival, "Cheese Fries & Chili Dips" time travels through Fuller's life with information and facts that openly discuss his early life in the affluent township of Weston where lack of money was often a problem; how he coped with his father's death when he was only eight years old; how his math skills were particularly low; how competition in pro golf was important to him; and how and why he ended up in a mental hospital before a major qualifying golf event.
Divided into two snappy, fast-paced acts, the production also includes humorous bits about various jobs (T-Mobile, bug inspector, dressing up as an oversized packet of cheese fries), Zen Golf, Coach Mike, Amish schooling, his lack of dance and vocal talents and finally, how he became friends with a psychic guru named Moonbeam, who, in real life was none other than Debbie Pinsky. 
Standing tall against the colorful backdrop of Miggs Burroughs outdoor atmospheric golfing green set design, which, incidentally fits seamlessly into the welcoming, immersive environs of Seven Angels Theatre, Fuller retraces his life-affirming journey with lively, important back screen photos, clips and projections (all timed and orchestrated with absolute storytelling perfection) that heighten and cement his line delivery, his transformation into several different people including his mom Elizabeth and actress Bette Davis, his hilarious facial expressions and the show's continual changes of pace, style and mood. He even finds the time to explain the "chili dip" slang term in the game of golf.

Uplifted with the knowledge that anything in life is possible, "Cheese Fries & Chili Dips" not only emits real joy, humor and emotion but comes gift wrapped with a hilarious, timely, inventive five-star performance by Chris Fuller, who, golf clubs aside, leaves his audience visibly thrilled by a raw talent and on-stage showmanship that dazzles and charms with real heart and soul.
He sells it with such utter conviction, even Bette Davis, if she were alive today, would stand up and cheer Fuller's performance with accompanying love and putt-putt embracement.

"Cheese Fries & Chili Dips" is being staged at Seven Angels Theatre (1 Plank Road, Waterbury, CT), now through November 19, 2023.
For tickets or more information, call (203) 757-4676.

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