Hip Shot: Preacherman
Wonderbox, 629 New York Ave. NW
Tuesday, July 12th, 8:15 p.m.
Wednesday, July 13th, 9 p.m.
Saturday, July 16th, 10 p.m.
Sunday, July 17th, 2:15 p.m.
They say: "Pentecostal preacher turned atheist street magician turned Fringe Comedic Cult Leader finding 'accidental enlightenment' over two trips to the Burning Man festival. 'Nuge makes it look easy and fun' – (CRITIC'S PICK) Cincinnati CityBeat."
Ian's Take: Pop quiz, hot shot. You're a teenager having some solitary prayer time, and some kid interrupts you with a request for assistance: "Come give us a hand, we're casting demons out of Pam." What do you do??
a) Get annoyed at this obvious prank interrupting your time with God, and ignore him.
b) Laugh heartily at your friend for his joke, since Pam really has been kind of bitchy lately.
c) Drop everything and follow him. Casting out demons is serious business.
If you're a teen on track to become a Pentecostal preacher, the answer is always going to be C. And if anyone should come by and see you holding down a writhing, spitting, cursing girl while holding a palm on her head and speaking in tongues, this is going to look to them like a pretty normal weekday afternoon.
That's the kind of experience that was the stuff of the everyday for Tommy Nugent—the "Reverend Nuge." The first portion of his one-man show, Preacherman, is filled with tales of religious oddities that will be foreign and fascinating to anyone raised in more subdued faiths, and perhaps even moreso to the godless heathens one assumes populate the average Fringe audience. (I mean that in the nicest way! From one godless heathen to a multitude.)
Preacherman is the autobiographical story of one man's search for his place and purpose in the world. If that sounds a little grandiose and perhaps more earnest than one might expect from Fringe, you're absolutely right. The show has its funny and irreverent anecdotes, like the one about poor possessed Pam, and another about Nugent's time at two Burning Man festivals. But this monologue aims to be more moving than mirthful, particularly as Nugent relates low points like losing his inner-city youth ministry due to a slight indiscretion, and losing every penny he had on a single run of bad luck at the blackjack tables.
Nugent comes across as a man so constantly search of meaning that this show may be as much a part of that journey as it is a description of it. He's happy and centered now, but one suspects Nugent—unfailingly engaging and gregarious—could have seemed that way on a stage at any point in his life.
He speaks of the emptiness found in enlightenment programs devised by self-help gurus from Christ to Tony Robbins to the purveyors of pot brownies at Burning Man—this in a show that is punctuated by the moments of clarity that allow him to see these things as silly distractions, and not deep and defining ways of looking at the world. The joke is that the Reverend Nuge is starting a cult of his own, the tenets of which mostly revolve around purchasing his DVD and wearing a "REV NUGE ♥'s YOU" button. Tying together the themes of the show with a little naked self-promotion comes off a tiny bit too eager in practice, and the difficulty in blending the humor into an intensely personal performance yields the occasional pacing hiccup. Luckily for the Reverend, he's enthusiastic and likeable enough that such sins are generally forgivable.
See it if: You enjoy a nice tall glass of Kool-Aid.
Skip it if: Declarations of love from strangers make you uncomfortable.