August 13, 2010 La MaMa First Floor Theatre Reviewed by David Vining
Bert Hana is a strange man. And bless FringeNYC for bringing us weird, touching, unexpected, and completely noncommercial shows like his.
It is a bit hard to explain the charm of Daddy Day. As I said, creator-performer Bert Hana is quite strange; but that's not even the half of it. Though the show purports to be at Venue #4, La MaMa First Floor Theatre, that is not the case. As the audience waits for the house to open I am told by a friendly Dutchman that the house is not going to open, but instead we are going to walk to an apartment to see the show. I am a big fan of site-specific theatre, so I am already happy. At the door to the second floor apartment, Hana stands and greets everyone with a warm handshake and an awkward smile. "There are a lot of you," he remarks.
Unbeknownst to most of the audience, the show has already begun. Hana hosts the evening much as a really awkward social gathering. Food and beverages are offered, music plays quietly in the background (eerily effective orchestral arrangements of American standards) and eventually, in his own time, after some dithering, he presents the main course: a slide show. It is of a camping trip he took, and he shows the whole thing.
His presentation and persona are so delicate and off-kilter that I am prepared for anything. I can't tell if he is channeling Emo Phillips or Meredith Monk. I am ready to laugh, and there are a few laughs, but the whole room is waiting for the other shoe to drop. And gradually the slide show does morph, though as with everything in Daddy Day the change is hard to spot. In fact, with the exception of a poignant change of cassette tapes, Hana is a sphinx, pressing the button to advance the slides and constantly sipping tea. He is nearly impossible to read as he flips through the slides. He occasionally (very occasionally) comments on them, with such enlightening witticisms as "this is the place where you could buy ice cream." Is there tortured thought behind his gaze as he inspects each photo? Or is he just a little gassy?
The twist does finally come, but in a form so unexpected, so emotionally poignant and so free from irony, flash, artifice, or exposition that as it washes over the crowd there is nothing but tense silence. And Hana does not bail out the audience either. Hana merely thanks us for coming and stands, ever inscrutable, in the dark waiting for the crowd to disperse.
The night I saw the show, audience members became so uncomfortable with this exercise in tension building that an impromptu talkback session broke out with people seeming to say anything that popped into their head in an effort to fill the beautifully strained silence, even offering travel advice.
Despite this unfortunate afterbirth, Daddy Day is a creative triumph of understatement—a rare show that actually had more to say than it is willing to tell. For that I salute Bert Hana and his unique and oddly courageous brand of theatre.
I would say more, but with a show this subtle, it is the unfolding that make the journey worth taking and it is definitely an experience that is greater than the sum of its parts.