The Way You Tell Them doesn’t look for laughs

Playwright Rachel Mars analyzes the nature of comedy in her one-woman show

The Way You Tell Them is a solo show about comedy but it is not, at first, meant to be funny.

Presented as part of the Centaur Theatre’s 18th annual Wildside festival in its first Canadian run, the show was written by Rachel Mars, a theatre performer from London, who promises to “[look] at the internal world of the joke teller.’’ She recounted the story of her Jewish family’s history and their relationship to humour. The result was experimental comedy that is at once personal, intuitive, and thoughtful.

Her study of humour takes a documentary theatre form, and she invited us into a living room setting.

She directly addressed the public, asking to be told offensive jokes. The audience’s participation created an informal atmosphere. The integration of piano and accordion music, as well as a laugh track, eased the transitions throughout her piece. Everything in the show is there for a specific reason.

Mars strives to understand the dichotomy between the funny and the serious. She warned the audience that the show would become more and more serious as it unfolded. She reminisced about the first time she thought she was funny, as a three-year-old,  and how she got a kick out of the rush of endorphins. She spoke about her addiction to being funny and about how some of her family members were notoriously hilarious.

She remembered going through many children’s joke books when she was a kid, including Leo Rosten’s Giant Book of Laughter.

Mars wore a white T-shirt with a drawing of lungs on it and comical red shoes, along with her black pantsuit. The lungs are a symbol of laughter and of life, and this theme came back several times throughout her show, playing a central role in The Way You Tell Them and taking on multiple meanings. Mars drew interesting parallels between lungs and her family, the Holocaust, and comedy.

She explained her research on the effects of laughter, and how humans are prone to involuntary laughter at the most inappropriate times. She presented archival audio footage of an interview with J. Robert Oppenheimer, who is known as the father of the atomic bomb. Her analogy between human atrocities and laughter was astonishing. Mars also used an excerpt from a video interview with a person living with AIDS. The show’s twists forcedspectators to reflect on comedy and laughter as a coping mechanism.

She spoke in a conversational tone, and used a stand-up setting as a vehicle to get her point across. Mars spoke about not being a serious person, and how comedy allowed her to say just about anything.

Wearing a grey one-piece wolf costume, she left us with her personal reflection on the contradictions of humanity in a clever way.

The show will be presented on Tuesday, Jan. 13 at 9 p.m., Wednesday, Jan. 14 at 7 p.m., and on Friday, Jan. 16 at 7 p.m.

Tickets cost $50 for a four show “superpass,” or $40 for subscribers, students, seniors or people under 30. Single show passes are $15, or $12.50 for subscribers, students, seniors and people under 30.

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