The playwright/performer well known to fans of National Public Radio seems to have been born, raised and divinely ordained to spin a tale. Here’s Kling on his reckless, rural Minnesota childhood: “Before there was Jackass: The Movie, there was me and my brother.” About the crippled Hephaestus, keeper of the forge in Greek mythology, Kling observes, “The one disabled god was really the only god who held down a job.”
Kling knows what it’s like to be born with a disability (a withered left arm) and, as he puts it, what it’s like “to achieve one later in life.” A motorcycle crash in middle age rendered his right arm useless, among other injuries.
He writes using voice-recognition software, which once translated a nearby argument between his dog and cat as, “How? How? Why? Why? Why?” So that’s where this show gets its title.
Kling doesn’t explain how he came by his co-star, Simone Perrin, but her accordion accompaniment and old-timey vocal stylings prove just as serendipitous. Whether Perrin’s adorable presence softens or exaggerates Kling’s own strangeness will depend on the viewer, but it’s a tension in line with the humorist’s stated theme: “beauty embraced by the grotesque; light embraced by shadow.”
This profundity comes wrapped in a package that couldn’t be more Midwest-folksy if Garrison Keillor himself showed up to serve Powerdermilk Biscuits in the lobby. It’s not a perfect show — Kling overplays many of his jokes, not all of Perrin’s song selections fly and the final moments trade in too many “inspirational” clichés — but the quizzical performance is a uniquely cozy way for mortals to spend a winter night.
HOW? HOW? WHY? WHY? WHY?, presented by the Cincinnati Playhouse, continues through March 14. Buy tickets, check out performance times and get venue details here.