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Almost A Genius (2014 Frigid New York Festival)

by Geoffrey Paddy Johnson on March 4, 2014

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almostagenius maria wojo frigid copyMental disorder is a prickly theme for a comedian, at once courting a humane sympathetic response all but extinguishing of levity, while summoning a degraded, inhumane call for ridicule – an entirely viler form of laughter. As a chosen topic it is demanding, requiring skillful handling, but there are some who seem qualified to do so, much the way there are some who can juggle chainsaws. Maria Wojciechowski is one of those artful jugglers. In her self authored comedic monologue, Almost A Genius, playing at this year’s Frigid Festival, she offers an account of her fairly recent diagnosis as a bi-polar personality. A devastating label to be handed at any stage of one’s life, with presently no known “cure”, the knowledge carries a heavy burden of responsibility. It provides, however, a framework with which to look back on past experiences and reappraise them. It seems Wojciechowski is presently at this point in her young life, but it doesn’t stop her from finding comedy in reflection. And perhaps it opens up understanding in larger, freer ways.

Witness, for instance, her opening act here as slowly, painfully almost, she inches from behind a curtain wearing a head-to-toe banana suit, her face a riven mask of angst. She closes on the microphone and haltingly commences in a cringing voice a sequence of bad to very bad banana puns and humorisms. It’s agonizing. And darkly, deeply funny. Everything is up for the cut: the performer, the audience, humor itself, and the banana – most maligned of fruits. This is clever stuff. Mercifully the lights go down, the banana suit comes off, and she stands before us as herself, launching into the story of her recent real life diagnosis. She has a soft, gentle voice and a slight and graceful physical presence. There is something mild and vulnerable about her, altogether at odds with the evident sharpness of her intelligence and the gritty humor she conjures in this clear-eyed, slightly self-mocking account of her harsh situation.

Almost A Genius Maria Wojo Writer PerformerPunctuating her affecting confessional monologue are a series of sketches and performances that crank up the laugh factor and deepen the investigation. Away from herself, in character, she is a bold and brassy performer, committed to her creations with a vitality that is almost scary – that banana is really quite alarming. We get some singing, some dancing, and a bunch of impersonations shedding various degrees of light on her personal story – some hilariously on point (an earnest nun singing How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?) – and some more vaguely so (a chatty Whitechapel prostitute who quips her way through a near fatal encounter with Jack the Ripper). Breezily she moves from act to act, effortlessly shifting gears, but the break in continuity and character sometimes damages the rhythm of the whole, and the proximity between scathing take-downs and heartfelt confession is an awkward one. What are we to make, for example, of her plaintive pronouncement concerning a cherished family pet -”sometimes I wonder if I loved that dog more than some of my family”? Does she mean it, or is she being funny again, sending up the trite sadness of the situation? Both, most likely. And really that’s the fine steel hook she can catch you with in this piece. She can use the comforting language familiar to support groups in a way that plays at once as sincere and as ridiculous. Many will be lulled by her soft ingenuous-seeming voice, the tender reality of her plight, but this is only half the story. Even though there are some broadly comical moments few could resist, by and large she’s a sly one.

With direction by Natalie Sullivan Shipman, as a piece it could use a little tightening up to improve pace, a little polish, perhaps even a little squaring up as to where the humor is contained and the real self prevails. But that might be tampering with a rare and delicate concoction from a distinctive performer. In its current form Wojciechowski has given us something already suffused with a vivid comedic sensibility and a brave creative reach. It’s almost a work of genius.

Almost A Genius
Directed by: Natalie Sullivan

Remaining Performance:
Mar 07, 5:30PM

Click HERE for tickets

Running time: 0 h 45 min
Price: $10.00 – $15.00
Seating: General Admission

UNDER St Marks
94 St Marks Place
New York , New York 10009
1st Ave and Ave A

Horse Trade Theater Group will present the 8th Annual FRIGID New York Festival at The Kraine Theater (85 East 4th Street between 2nd Avenue and Bowery) and UNDER St. Marks (94 St. Marks Place between 1st Avenue and Avenue A) February 19-March 9. Tickets are available for purchase in advance at or by calling 212-868-4444. 

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