Zoofest: Basic Training
I have a special type of admiration reserved for artists who perform alone. It’s not that I’m against group performances (in fact, I love them!), it’s just that it takes a special brand of talent to be able to hold a room as a solo performer. When you’re alone onstage, there is no backup. If you start bombing, nobody’s coming to save you. If your show sucks, there’s nobody else to blame. On the flipside, when you put on amazing show, you get the added bonus of knowing it was all you. Khalil Ashanti, you better be patting yourself on the fucking back right now. I demand it!
Tonight I was presented with the gift of utter brilliance, and it came to me in the form of a Zoofest show called Basic Training. It’s a story about a young man who joins the army as an escape from his unpleasant life, discovers that the man he views as a dad isn’t actually his father, becomes a performer, and tries to find his bio-dad. Actually, it’s much more than that. It’s a story about love, loneliness, suffering, and growth. But I don’t want to be giving you the impression that this show’s a downer: This show is absolutely hilarious!
Moving at an incredible pace, Khalil takes us through some of the most marking events of his life, and gives them a life of their own. We see him join the Air Force and face a belligerent sergeant who immediately views him as a target. We see him befriend a fellow rookie who happens to have Tourette’s Syndrome. We meet his mother, his stepfather, his uncle, some fellow performers, a cab driver, the list goes on and on! Every single character in this story is presented in a completely unique way, and becomes instantly memorable.
Crazy characters aren’t the only aspect of this show that make it so incredible, though. The text for this show is bulging with one-liners that come out of various characters’ mouths and keep the tone comical, even when darker themes are present. It also contains just the right amount of crowd interaction: it’s present a few times, but not so much that it becomes annoying. It’s in there just enough to guarantee that you can’t lose your focus. Hell, I don’t see how anyone could become distracted while watching Basic Training, but on the odd chance your brain malfunctions, the crowd interaction’ll bring you right back in.
Just to add to this already gigantic pile of reasons to see this show, here’s a kicker: Ashanti actually cares about his show, and you can feel it. The man’s telling his life story (yep, it’s all true!), and he’s thankful for every pair of ears that’s in the crowd, listening. When the show ended tonight, he came back onstage to give a sort of epilogue describing where some of the characters ended up. Immediately after that, he was waiting outside the show to meet and talk to anyone who wanted a minute of his time, and to thank everyone personally as they left. How great is that?
Basic Training has a few dates left on its run, which ends this Friday. It’s at Place-Des-Arts, it’s only 20$, and it’s honestly one of the best shows of any kind that I have ever witnessed. It’s funny, it’s touching, it’s engaging as hell, and it will mark you. Go see it, bring your friends, and then tell Khalil that Bloody Underrated sent you. Then come back here and tell us how great you thought the show was.
P.S.: Cranbourne may have set the bar extra high for the franco shows we’re covering at Zoofest, but Basic Training was the first anglo show of the year, and I have no idea how the rest of the shows can possibly live up to it. What evil programming this is!