By Hephzibah Dutt
A new plateau was set in KC Fringe history this year when Max Brown’s “Life Laid Bare” sold out of its complete run before the festival actually began. This, as far as this reviewer has been able to determine, was the first time for this to occur at our local festival. Fortunately, extra shows have been added here and there, and there will in all likelihood be extra post-fringe shows as well, as is so often the case. We went along last night to see what all the fuss is about.
Mr. Brown is a retired drama teacher, having spent the majority of his life in and around eastern Kansas. It therefore follows as no surprise that his entrance is… well, let us not say dramatic. No, let’s just say he creates an impression. We hit the ground running, following along snapshots of life in Sunflower, Kansas, meeting the various members of his family, and attending practice funerals (yes, really). His childhood was mostly typical by his account, but it certainly had its moments.
His adulthood is where things get truly interesting. He speaks of working as a teacher in small town school systems, of trying to run away from the thing that everyone around him knew but he wasn’t ready to face himself. Slowly, as the seventies progress, he eases out of the closet with the help of a few friends and takes a few tentative steps toward finding real love.
LGBTs in the 70s and 80s lived in interesting times, as the old curse goes. Simultaneously liberating and terrifying, a whole community was trying to put itself together and find its way to the light, even as a plague began to drastically reduce its numbers. Max takes us through this: the wonderful people he knew, the agony of watching so many of them get swept away. It is a sobering subject, and one that brought back a lot of things in this reviewer that had been carefully put away a long time ago.
The show is one of the 90-minute shows here at Fringe this year, and not without reason. The Fishtank was jam-packed for the evening’s performance, but Mr.Brown is a soft-spoken gentleman and between that and the fan running in the back he could not always be clearly heard. A radio microphone or similar would go a long way toward helping things on the technical front.
Other than that, there is no real complaint. Max Brown is a devilishly good storyteller, an interesting fellow who has seen a lot and is kind enough to share some of it with his audience. It seems no mystery to this reviewer that this show sold out: this is a man who accumulates friends, whom people want to listen to, to visit with and just be around. And for an hour and a half, this reviewer was fortunate enough to be afforded that privilege.