Performed and directed by Al Lafrance
Montreal Improve Espace B
Master storyteller and the Fringe’s favorite son Al Lafrance returns with a one-man show about insomnia, parallel universes, near-death experiences and something a whole lot darker.
You know you’re in safe hands from the off as Lafrance plunges into his story without preliminaries and at 100 miles per hour, pausing every now and then to take a swig of water as incidental music creates the sense of chapter breaks.
Referencing several classic films about insomnia (Fight Club, Taxi Driver and, of course, Insomnia), he narrates how the condition has plagued him all his life, which in turn leads him to muse about the bad experiences and decisions in his life which haunted him during those dark sleepless nights of the soul. These include a moment of realization that he might be a bit of a selfish asshole when, during a friend’s wedding trip in Cuba, he gleefully reveled in the prospect of an impending hurricane, leaving his then girlfriend to face her terror alone. (“Did you like that story?” he asks that very ex-girlfriend who happens to be in the audience the night I catch it. She did.)
Lafrance’s material is far ranging and seemingly freewheeling. But, as with the best storytellers – he reminded me of Spalding Gray and British raconteur Ken Campbell – it all proves to be cleverly interconnected. I won’t spoil exactly how things come together in I Think I’m Dead, except to say that it switches from being a playful litany of anecdotes to something shockingly and movingly self-revelatory.
I laughed out loud a couple of times before we got to that incredibly powerful last stretch, particularly at one wacky detour which demonstrated how Billy Joel’s unfailingly cheerful Uptown Girl is actually a bit of a downer, especially for Joel himself.
But I’ll admit I didn’t laugh a whole lot throughout. I sometimes found Lafrance’s delivery a bit too heavy on the irony — although it dawns that this isn’t just a comedic technique for the stage, it’s a survival strategy in life.
Whether you find this show, which is billed as a comedy, funny or not – and a lot of people in the room did — it’s real strength lies in its being a painfully honest confessional about mental health and the necessity of being there for one another. A fine message for this most communal of festivals.