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What Is Comedy?

Fringe Festival play 'Trash' stretches the definition.

Many of the offerings in the New York International Fringe Festival are billed as comedies, but at least one, “Trash,” stretches the definition of comedy. The basic dictionary definition of comedy when used to describe theater, or by extension, films and television, is “a dramatic work that is light and often humorous or satirical in tone and that usually contains a happy resolution of the thematic conflict.”

“Trash” is billed as a comedy, but on its surface it seems more like a drama. It is the story of three friends living in the junkyard they run in the Ozarks (southwest Missouri). Two of these three are a couple (actors Will Manning and Katie Gilchrist), and the third (Joseph Langham) is the best friend of the man in the couple. Manning’s character, Bob, faces a choice on whether to follow Melissa, who is rising in the ranks of a convenience store chain from being just a clerk to managing three new stores in Little Rock, Arkansas. But he feels tied to his small Missouri town and his place as the third generation to run the junkyard. He also bears an additional health burden of HIV, contracted in a very unlikely way, that could lead to his eventual death.

These don’t exactly sound like the ingredients of hilarious comedy, even with comedic touches evident as the audience gets to know the characters. If comedy still falls within the boundaries of dramatic work, however, “Trash” does fit the definition, because for all the heavy subject matter and conflict with the couple, the tone stays humorous, largely due to the bits of business that illuminate who these characters are, like Bob’s savant-like knowledge of every last item in the junkyard, or Melissa’s knack for showing up every time the guys light up a joint.

But it’s what Bob’s best friend does to entertain him and support him in a situation where he has become viewed as the “town leper” that really sustains a comedic tone. The playwright, David White, skillfully builds up the friend’s construction of a mystery contraption in the junkyard to provide the happy resolution of the central conflict of the stories of these three people, making it a comedy in the end. And that end result is a comedy that leaves the audience hopeful and optimistic for the couple’s relationship as well.

“Trash” has four remaining performances in the New York International Fringe Festival on August 18 and 25-27.




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