Fringeworthy

Hip Shot: I<3Hummels

Goethe Institut – Main Stage

Remaining Performances:
July 18, 8 p.m.
July 21, 4:15 p.m.
July 24, 6:45 p.m.
July 29, 3:30 p.m.

They say: "Loving Hummels got Raymond through everything in life except love. Will he give them up to find it?"

Catherine's Take: Who knew Hummels could be this funny? There are two types of people in the world, well—two types under the age of 80: Those who hate Hummels and those who don't know what Hummels are. If you are the latter type, don't be put off by the title. I<3Hummels is a goofy treat. (Full disclosure: my grandmother and great-aunts collected Hummels)

Raymond is a lonely guy raised by his grandmother—that's why he loves Hummels, those kitschy German figurines beloved by old ladies. The closest thing he has to a friend is the president of his Hummels collectors group. After calling a 1-900 number by mistake, he begins a friendship with Greta, a phone sex operator.

An unfocused art teacher rebelling against her disapproving mother, Heidi hates Hummels but falls for Raymond. Sounds like your basic RomCom, but I<3Hummels is so much more. This is a rare example of actors collectively writing a play that's really good.

The program states that LiveArts has been developing I<3Hummels for three years, and the attention to detail shows. The story is weird enough to surprise, but structured enough to take the audience along on a satisfying ride. The characters are fully developed and endearingly odd. Heidi encourages her students to smash other people's perceptions of them, and that's exactly what Raymond winds up doing. In this show, no one is exactly what they seem. We can identify with all the characters, which makes it all the more fun when they drive each other crazy.

Director Kevin Finkelstein and the cast create some delicious moments. Heidi's mother, Mrs. Klein, hums a tune from The Magic Flute while setting the table. Each time we see hausfrau Greta answer her sex hotline, she's simultaneously cooking, cleaning or mending. Even the Hummel images popping up on the backdrop demonstrate perfect comic timing.

Considering that this show was written by the cast, it's not surprising that they relish their roles. Rebecca Herron's multi-accented sex-menu selections get laughs before she sets foot onstage. As a daughter and mother who can't get along, Heather Whitpan and Wendy Wilmer put the "fun" in dysfunctional. James Radack finds surprisingly tender moments in Raymond's story: Reliving the day his beloved grandmother gave him his first figurine; his dazzled reaction to Mrs. Klein's collection of 487 Hummels; the play of emotions that cross his face as he listens to a significant phone message. The audience clearly loved the performances — the actors get laughs throughout and applause on their exits.

I<3Hummels is one of the best examples of shows written specifically for Fringe, off-beat yet on target.

Playwright: Collaboratively written by LiveArt
Show length: 80 minutes

See it if: You like your comedy smart and sweet.

Skip it if: You have a Hummels Pinterest album.

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