Release the Stars: The Ballad of Randy and Evi Quaid, is a harder show to describe than you’d think. It’s not just a voyeuristic look into the crazy Quaid couple, who sought refugee status in Canada after forming a belief that their lawyers and accountants were embezzling their money and would eventually have them killed. Instead, writer-performers Amanda Barker and Daniel Krolik explore the notion of what happens when someone creates their own reality show, only to have the world stop watching, and how hard it is to let go of a person when you feel united against a common enemy and the world. Barker and Krolik are not just playing Randy and Evi Quaid; they play a brother and sister putting on a Fringe show and playing Randy and Evi Quaid. You might be getting the impression that there are several levels of story here, and that things get rather meta, and you would be right. This is a delightful piece of layered theatre that is more moving and interesting than it has any right to be (and, though my prejudice is showing, I think this is partially due to it being one of the few shows that actually employs a dramaturg, in this case Megan Mooney of Mooney on Theatre, the site that impressively actually reviews every single Fringe show).
The site-specific piece is at SIX20SEVEN Gallery on Queen St. West, and we are told that the 14 paintings around us represent parts of the Quaid’s story, which we will come to understand and be “implicated” in as the evening goes on. Some of them are explained, some of them are made reference to, and many of them are left a mystery; all of them, however, are for sale. It’s an interesting concept, but it’s hard to tell if that inspiration resulted in the choice of the gallery, or the choice of the gallery resulted in the inspiration. I kind of wanted the paintings to factor more heavily into the story, and to have the audience really be taken through all the “stations of the cross” or not be used at all. Perhaps it would be a little too pat and easy to have all paintings explained to us, particularly by a couple who is having a hard enough time explaining themselves.
Barker and Krolik are extremely engaging and sympathetic performers, always in the moment and utterly believable at whatever they’re doing; performance-wise, I think this is my favourite of Fringe so far. They have smartly decided not just to play at being Randy and Evi, because that would lead to cliché impressions or something much more self-conscious. By not going the impression route, and not just presenting the Quaids but adding another intertwining layer with the brother/sister dynamic, they wind up with something that feels more accurate and human. This show could have so easily just been actors making fun of two mentally ill people, which would have been awful to watch. (Having actors play siblings playing a couple is a little creepy, but the mood of the show very deliberately walks the line between creepy and sweet, and would probably not do proper justice to the Quaids’ odd but touching story anyway.) The crazy is acknowledged, but all characters get to explain themselves.
The story is filtered through all sorts of interesting devices, such as interviews, “scripts” the characters have written, the Illuminati interview tactic “how do you kill,” and even audience-led Google searches. It’s all a fascinating comment on the way we filter and create stories and characters out of the lives of real people, and what some will do for attention.
I don’t want to give any more of this complex piece away, though I’m not sure if I really could. It’s something that has to be seen to be understood and believed, and it really should be seen. It’s the kind of show that Fringe is for; it both makes us ask, “what were these people ON?” and “where can I get some?”