At 7:30 on the second Friday night of the 2008 Indianapolis Fringe Festival I walked down Mass. Ave. to the Theatre on the Square to see “Potpourri Potluck Kitchen Sink Meatloaf.” This witty collection of first-person stories, or monologues, was written and read aloud by Matt Fotis. Fotis is the founder and artistic director of the Shantz Theatre Company in Chicago.
At last year’s Indy Fringe, I enjoyed (but did not get a chance to review) Shantz’ “Burying Mom.” This year, before I saw “Potpourri,” I ran into actor Jeff Reese (sp?) at YATS restaurant on Mass. Ave. during the Fringe. He raved to me about all of Fotis’ work, including a new play called “The Marriage of Marcus Tyler,” which Theatre on the Square will produce later this season. I don’t know Reese well, but I can already tell that when it comes to theatre, he is PICKY.
I think I am the opposite of picky when it comes to theatre, but I, too, have my standards. I am not interested in excuses and I am not interested in being insulted. When I went to see “Potpourri” and realized that it was just one guy reading aloud from a notebook, I felt a little disgruntled at first.
However, pretty quickly I got caught up in the hilarity and sly irreverence of the stories, especially since it was obvious that Fotis had not just thrown some scripts in his car and driven down here. He had put a lot of thought into a) writing the scripts and then b) deciding how to read the scripts aloud to make them come alive for us.
At the same time, he was fully present. He had practiced enough that he could look up and make eye contact with us, and improvise a little based on our reactions. For example, when someone sniffed or something to show their displeasure over a line about all fat people liking jelly donuts, he made a sidebar with his hand and said, as the writer rather than the narrator, he was glad this line made that person angry.
I guess I had been annoyed by that line, too, because I am fat and I normally do not like jelly donuts at all. Please do not stereotype me! However, Fotis’ character made me suddenly want a jelly donut! Yikes.
The stories included one about Fotis becoming a father and another about him battling a squirrel and his downstairs neighbor. Oh, my, I am laughing again, remembering that martyred woman!
“Potpourri” ended up being a very entertaining 50 minutes, even though it was just a guy sitting by himself on a folding chair in the middle of a large stage reading from a notebook propped on a folding TV tray table.
I loved that Fotis never made excuses for what he was doing. He just offered us his exceptional reading, writing, and acting skills in the best form that he could in this particular time and place.
I got a chance to chat with Fotis later. He is very tall and lanky. I didn’t tell him that in his striped shirt he reminded me of the hero from the Where’s Waldo books by Martin Hanford, but he did, and it made me like him even more.
He told me that he had originally planned to bring a fully staged piece from Shantz in Chicago to the 2008 Indy Fringe as he has in previous years. One of the pieces he was considering was “The Van Gogh Exhibit,” which has been well received at other Fringe festivals. But then his wife got a new job and therefore couldn’t take a week off to help him with it. Then, a cast member in his “plan B” show got engaged and dropped out to plan her wedding. After that, he just did the best he could and brought us, his Indy fans, some short stories he thought we would like.
I’m glad he did.
Hope Baugh – www.IndyTheatreHabit.com