Monday, June 17, 2013

The Question, June 17, 2013

Dread, Terror...and Hair Loss
by Estelle Rosen

Jeff Gandell is a Montreal writer, storyteller, improviser, and teacher. Jeff frequently delivers comedic monologues at events around Montreal in a voice that is disarming, vulnerable, hilarious, and completely unique. He was the winner of the 2013 Words on Waves contest sponsored by CKUT. He hosts Yarn, a monthly comedic storytelling night, in Montreal. The Balding is a race against time, nature, and the terrifying responsibilities of adulthood.

CHARPO: Subjects in your play include connection between balding and virginity with the ensuing quest bringing rather disastrous results.  Rather than ask about the motivation to write this play - please feel free to include this aspect in your reply - did this become a life-learning experience for your character? 

GANDELL:  The protagonist/narrator/hero, Jeff, definitely undergoes a life-learning experience. But I don’t think the learning experience comes exclusively from the disastrous results of his quest to lose his virginity and save his hair. The show (I’m hesitant to call it a play, though I suppose it is. Comedic monologue?) covers the years of 19-23 in Jeff’s life. I think the lessons he learns are as much a result of the lessons everyone learns during these important years. Jeff is transforming from a young adult to an adult, and I suppose most of what he discovers is that the dread and terror he feels at growing up are universal to all humans, and not just a product of his hair loss.

What I’ve tried to get through more than anything else is the genuine vulnerability of a man, a person, a human in his early 20's.

The hair loss thing is an effective trope, I think, to hold the play together, and is a too-little used gem of a comedic device. But though the superstitious connection Jeff makes between hair loss and late virginity is comical, perhaps cartoonish at times, the emotions that lurk beneath them are very real, and not exclusive to this particular situation. Beneath everything, Jeff wants to feel worthwhile, to feel valuable and valued. There is this sense that he is somehow less than everyone else. He neatly categorizes these feelings under “hair loss” and “virginity,” but the implication is that they could just as easily be filed under “overweight,” “not good-looking enough,” “stupid,” or any of the millions of ways humans find to beat themselves up and imagine that they are inferior to everyone else. What I’ve tried to get through more than anything else is the genuine vulnerability of a man, a person, a human in his early 20's. 

So, yes, Jeff is slightly better off at the end of the play than at the beginning. I felt it was important to remain true to the emotional reality of being a person of this age. It wouldn’t make sense for Jeff to have it all figured out by the end. There is a sense of him being slightly more at ease with himself when the show wraps up. Which is still a big deal! But there is also the sense that these neuroses and insecurities will persist, if perhaps in a marginally less intense way. He’s only 23 when the curtain falls. I know I didn’t really start to feel comfortable in my own skin until I was closer to 30. And, like everyone, I still have my moments of beating myself up. But the difference between me at 36 and what I remember of me at 20 is pretty profound. Everyone tells you that the early 20s are the best time of your life. In a way I suppose they are, but looking at it from this angle, life gets a whole lot better as it goes on. These things that consume us when we are younger make way for more substantial adult concerns. We shave our heads, and realize it’s not so bad. We negotiate adult romantic relationships, and find out that they bring with them a whole new calibre of neuroses and fixations. Our problems become more important, but we are better equipped to deal with them. That’s where I hope a lot of the fun of this play comes from. I hope audience members will be able to reach back into their own early 20s, or a time in their lives where every little thing that goes wrong is the end of the world, and laugh at the wonder of miseries past.

The Balding is at the Montreal Fringe

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