Fear Factor: Canine Edition
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
February 22, 2012
"The peculiar and misguided true adventures of a man and his therapy dog," reads the blurb for John Grady's solo show Fear Factor: Canine Edition, now playing at the FRIGID New York Festival. I misread that to mean that the dog—Abby is her name—was in some way providing therapy for John; in fact, Abby is trained as a therapy dog to help victims of serious injury regain motor skills and build self-esteem, and the story of one such person Abby assisted is but a small anecdote within this larger show. Fear Factor is mostly about—spoiler alert!—how John had to put Abby to sleep, and some of the random memories that this presumably triggered.
Not expecting that to be the main subject of the monologue, I was surprised in a bad way by the realization that that was how the piece was going and I found it rather difficult to watch, nearly impossible to enjoy.
This is exacerbated by the show's really slow pacing—it's littered with long dramatic pauses that don't need to be there—and overly dramatic lighting (when he talks about euthanizing Abby, he steps into a tiny pool of light at stage right while the rest of the house is in darkness). No director or indeed any collaborators of any kind are listed in the spartan, hard-to-read program (black print on a blue background); perhaps additional eyes and ears would have benefited the development of this work.
It's a Spalding Gray-style monologue; quite brief at about 45 minutes running-time (counting all those prolonged pauses) and intertwining some reminiscences of Grady's NYC life and the Abby story with some observations about the TV show Fear Factor that don't really mesh well with the rest of the piece. A large amount of time is spent relating his time dating a mysterious, beautiful, unfathomably well-to-do ex-model named Natasha; she is not a character I cared to hear much about.
The show has been favorably reviewed elsewhere, and I freely admit that a certain amount of highly personal, subjective stuff contributed to my negative reaction to the piece. Which is why a clearer explanation of what it entails would serve it well in the festival program guide.