Alice Thorson Previews Hargrove Exhibit at the Nelson-Atkins Museum

Fiction for the sake of art
KC Fringe Festival producer/director writes the plot, museum supplies the setting.

by Alice Thorson, Kansas City Star, Nov 23, 2012.

Read more here:

It could be a hit. Or it could be a big flop.

In any event, a new exhibit at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art pushes well beyond the museum’s comfort zone in a bid to attract visitors in the 20- to 40-year-old range.

The show, “The Magnificent Collection of Gilbert G. Hargrove,” was not put together in the conventional, objects-first, way. Banking on her reputation for successful productions at the Kansas City Fringe Festival, the museum invited producer/director Tara Varney, 43, to invent a story that would define a show.

Varney’s latest project at Fringe was a play titled “Sexing Hitler,” based on true accounts of Nazi soldiers being given inflatable sex dolls to keep them away from prostitutes. For the Nelson, she conceived a story of a fictional 19th-century adventurer who traveled the world collecting things that he donated to the Nelson in the 1930s.

The exhibit presents the fictional Hargrove’s “gift” in a small gallery that has been transformed into a study and anteroom setting, with a Persian carpet on the floor, a desk outfitted with period objects, and cases and wall displays filled with Japanese drama masks, snuff bottles, a Chinese cloissonné altar set, paintings on clam shells, weapons and a bear claw necklace.

Given the 1930s timing, a visitor could imagine that Hargrove is an alter-ego of William Rockhill Nelson, who left land and money to build the museum. Well, not exactly. More likely, Hargrove could be considered the incarnation of the many collectors who have donated their motley treasures to the Nelson over the years.

Tinged with 19th-century notions of the exotic, the exhibit is a veritable flea market of collectibles from faraway places and American Indian cultures pulled from the drawers and shelves of museum storage.

Leesa Fanning, who connected the curators whose departments contributed objects to the show, characterizes the exhibit as a cabinet of curiosities — a collection of odd and wondrous things. (An ongoing exhibit in the Bloch Building photography galleries also explores the cabinet of curiosities theme).

In 2005, the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore added a “Chamber of Wonders” to its baroque and Renaissance installation. The display, which is based on what a 17th-century nobleman in the southern Netherlands might have collected, features art and natural history objects, including paintings and sculpture, taxidermy animals, scarabs, nose rings and other artifacts from the museum’s archives.

A week before the Nov. 23 opening of the Hargrove show, Fanning and the rest of the team who collaborated on it were thinking on the fly. Conservator Scott Heffley, a collector himself who contributed many of the objects that appear in Hargrove’s study, including a trio of suspended puffer fish, had brought in more objects from his home that morning.

“I collect folk art and strange things,” he explained. “Art Deco, crystal balls, crystals. This is the tip of the iceberg.” Over the weekend Heffley was headed to a big antiques show in New York, raising the possibility of further contributions to Hargrove’s trove.

Head of conservation Elisabeth Batchelor and Amber Mills, the designer who transformed the small gallery in the southwest corner of the Nelson-Atkins building into a space for Hargrove’s booty, were getting ready to situate the many objects yet to come up from museum storage.

Project coordinator Rose May was settling details and continuing her conversations with Varney, who will give three performances in the role of Hargrove’s great-granddaughter in the exhibit space, beginning in December.

For her part, Varney, with her partner Bryan Colley, was completing biographies of six generations of Hargroves that will form the exhibit’s backstory.

“There’s an art collector, a dealer, an activist, an authenticator and a forger,” she said.

During the exhibit, Varney will put up a Facebook page for her Tara Hargrove character, “so the character and all the stories can be continued outside of the space.”

“The Magnificent Collection of Gilbert C. Hargrove” is the latest manifestation of Nelson-Atkins director Julián Zugazagoitia’s determination to think outside the box when it comes to connecting the museum with the community.

The Nelson is not alone in this effort. It was one of five museums whose directors formed a consortium at last winter’s American Association of Museum Directors conference, where they decided to engage the services of the Innovatrium, an innovation laboratory in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Last spring the Nelson, the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, the Toledo Museum of Art and the Carnegie Museums in Pittsburgh sent five staff members each to a two-day boot camp at the Innovatrium. One idea that came up, May said, was to create a great story on the model of independent film as the basis for an exhibit.

“Julián has been talking a lot about how we have the opportunity to tell great stories at the museum and encouraging us to tell stories,” she said.

This show builds on that approach.

“It changes the way we typically do things,” May said. “It starts with a great story and then we find the objects.”

“For us, it’s very upside down,” Batchelor added.

The storytelling aspect isn’t the only part of the show that departs from curatorial norms.

This is a show that came together at lightning speed for a museum that typically spends months and years in preparation.

“We didn’t fill out any forms,” Fanning said. “It was a lot of fun.”

Portrait of Benjamin Hargrove

Benjamin Hargrove and his new wife, 1947.

Portrait of Perry Hargrove

Perry Hargrove's story will soon be told at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

Portrait of Mortimer Hargrove

You'll learn more about Mortimer Hargrove (1840-1898) soon at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.

Portrait of Edgar Hargrove

One of my ancestors, Edgar Hargrove (1809-1849), will be exhibited at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Details coming soon.

Article About Fringe for 2AM Theatre

The Kansas City Fringe recently held its 8th festival, and if there’s one thing the festival has become known for (besides burlesque) it’s as a breeding ground for new plays by local writers. There are several theatre companies in Kansas City that will occasionally produce works by local playwrights, but none that are devoted exclusively to the task or that do much to foster the creation of new works within the community. Consequently, the Kansas City Fringe Festival is where local writers go to test their mettle. With its low barrier for entry, an atmosphere of risk taking, and an audience eager to try something new, playwrights are using the Fringe to hone their craft and build their reputation.

KC Metropolis picks "Sexing Hitler" as Top Ten Play of the Year

Kansas City Fringe Festival—Sexing Hitler. Laugh-out-loud disturbing and uncomfortably based in fact, this one-hour Fringe Festival contribution simultaneously made me guffaw at the ridiculousness of Nazi-designed sex dolls (true story) and shudder at the real-life horror that was the application of eugenics. (July 2012)

from KC Metropolis

"Sexing Hitler" Wins Fringe Hangover

It's official! Sexing Hitler is Best of Fringe and will have one more performance at Fringe Hangover, 3:00pm, Sunday, July 29 at the Off Center Theatre in Crown Center. It's your positively last chance to see this show.

UPDATE: Sexing Hitler was the third best attended play of the 2012 Kansas City Fringe Festival.  Thank you cast, crew, volunteers, and Fringe staff for making all of this possible, and most of all everyone that came to see our show.

"Sexing Hitler" Loves the Fringe

The cast and crew of "Sexing Hitler" talks about the Kansas City Fringe Festival

"Sexing Hitler" Review by Robert Trussell

Oh, those crafty Nazis.

In 1940, designers and fabricators at a factory in Dresden set to work making inflatable sex dolls for the troops because fine young specimens of German manhood were falling prey to the ravages of syphilis via Parisian prostitutes.

Sounds preposterous, I know, but this strange story was documented in Graeme Donald’s 2010 book, “Mussolini’s Barber.” The program was carried out under the supervision of Heinrich Himmler, who later suspended it. Regrettably, none of the “gynoids” survived the Dresden fire bombing.

This curious bit of history is the point of departure for “Sexing Hitler,” a new play by Bryan Colley and Tara Varney. The playwrights choose to avoid a conventional narrative in favor of a sort of meta-theatrical, vaudevillian style, which serves the material well.

The show, directed by Varney, is preceded by a rhyming prologue performed by Himmler (Andy Garrison) and the story is told through a series of vignettes punctuated by a live band – Kyle Dalquist, Sergio Moreno and Richard Walker, who composed the music with Christian Hankel. The 60-minute performance concludes with an epilogue.

There are times when this approach works brilliantly, thanks in large part to actor/choreographer Amy Hurrelbrink, who plays the Doll. She also plays Himmler’s mistress, but her performance as the Doll is what everyone will remember. The lithe, limber Hurrelbrink is apparently light as a feather, judging by how effortlessly actors carry her across the stage.

The Doll is initially seen with a white mask in place of a face, but it gradually becomes more unnervingly human as the play explores questions about standards of beauties, the nature of love and our shared humanity – or lack thereof. Hurrelbrink delivers an exceptional, mime-based performance.

The play depicts the doll’s development and creation by sculptor Arthur Rink (Parry Luellen) and Senta Schneider (Marcie Ramirez), an expert in textiles. A low-key, poignant love affair develops between these two, but, the play implies, they do not survive the Dresden bombing.

Playing multiple German soldiers is Eric Tedder, a dancer/actor who is quietly charismatic and exhibits flashes of a wicked sense of humor. Garrison chooses pomposity as Himmler’s defining characteristic and Hankel plays a succession of eugenicists in broad, comic style.

Varney and Colley have demonstrated an interest in weird corners of Nazi history before. This time most of the essential elements come together in a memorable piece of theater. If it’s less polished than we might prefer, it reflects the nature of KC Fringe shows, which have to be done fast and cheap.

Read more here:

from the Kansas City Star

"Sexing Hitler" Review by Detailer

Wonderful in every respect. It is hard for me to single out specifics because I liked every moment so much. The entire show is well-conceived and ably executed, and that is an understatement. Writers / directors Bryan Colley and Tara Varney crafted a splendid script, and nurtured actors and designers to bring it to life with perfection. Kudos to everyone involved with this outstanding production.

Heinrich Himmler decides that the soldiers need dolls to keep them from contaminating themselves with lesser humans. The program identifies resources for the true story about how the Third Reich invented inflatable pleasure dolls.

With that idea, we are in for rollicking good fun that hides the evil beneath. What I especially like about this script is that the evil is gradually exposed. There is a moment that punches me in the stomach, very similar to how I feel at the end of a certain song in Cabaret.

Andy Garrison as Himmler appropriately takes command of the stage, and sets the bar extremely high for excellent acting. He starts the gimmick of ending every scene with an actor’s gesture, and others follow suit, including the doll even when she is motionless during the scene. This gimmick fits the style of the show beautifully and humorously. It is very meaningful when Andy quits doing this gesture. His Johnny Carson-style monologue is one of the highlights. Starts out hilarious, and ends with thoughts to stop my breath.

Marcie Ramirez and Parry Luellen as the scientists who manufacture the doll build their humorous interplay into a sweet relationship that becomes an important symbol of hope at the end. Their opening scene in which they discuss how to design the doll is filled with their own awkward attraction, and the technical talk is very funny because of the well-defined subtext. One of Parry’s funny lines is questioning what he can tell his mother when she asks about his work. Parry’s thinking scene is a wonderful moment. He takes long enough to make me uncomfortable, which is the point. Yet he fills it with enough variety to keep me hooked. I can tell he is thinking because of his acting skills.

Eric Tedder and Christian Hankel portray various characters with distinctively different personalities, all very well done.

Amy Hurrelbrink plays both Himmler’s love interest and the doll, and does both parts with perfection. She choreographed the dances, as well, and all of her movements as the doll are amazing to watch. Her doll’s movements show different personalities and moods.

The crew also includes Ryan Puff as stage manager, Shane Rowse as technical director, and Diane Bulan as archivist. Kyle Dahlquist, Christian Hankel, Sergio Moreno, and Richard Walker provide music which adds to the fun. At one point Marcie and Parry react to a music cue; another time the band plays Somewhere Over the Rainbow when the soldier is dancing with his doll Dorothy.

The directors’ notes say that they allowed the cast to come up with the ending, and that changed from their original writing. As well as the rest of the script is done, I would imagine the writers’ original ending is excellent. But I do like the juxtaposition of Himmler’s perfect baby with the couple’s decision. Two visions of what the new Germany should be.

from KC Stage

"Sexing Hitler" Review by Karen Hauge

Just when you thought you knew everything there was to know about the Nazis, here comes Sexing Hitler, the nearly unbelievable true story of a team of scientists’ efforts to create a lifelike inflatable sex doll for Nazi soldiers to carry with them into battle. A concept like that almost defies the need for a review to garner fresh audiences, but I will digress over what was truly a must-see Fringe debut.

The year is 1941, and Nazi SS Heinrich Himmler (Andy Garrison) is presented with a problem: his soldiers are being threatened off the field as well as in battle. The culprit? Why, syphilis, of course, which is running rampant through the troops due to their unwavering patronage of French prostitutes. Himmler sets Dresden scientists Dr. Arthur Rink (Parry Luellen) and Senta Schneider (Marcie Ramirez) to an unusual and top secret task: to create a lifelike inflatable doll for soldiers to enjoy instead of the prostitutes, thereby keeping the troops healthy and strong enough for battle. The incredible ridiculousness of this idea is echoed in the musings of the scientists, who struggle to make a doll that is lifelike and satisfying, not only to keep soldiers healthy but also to prevent the conception of any children with the blood of a good German man and a dirty French whore.

The one-act, hour-long play is darkly funny and well composed, with a cast of six and a small band providing quirky reactive and mood-setting music. Off Center Theatre is bare, the only props being a few black boxes moved around between scenes by the actors. The actors’ performances are universally excellent, and naming standouts is impossible. Garrison as Himmler is deeply funny as the leader demanding feminine perfection in the doll; his character also functions as a narrator, speaking in verse (and I do love a good rhyme scheme) and sits down for interludes with various eugenicists from around the world, played with hilarious variety by Christian Hankel. Hankel delivers the sometimes shocking quotes of these scientists with earnestness that served to highlight the cruel reality of the worldwide history of race-purifying endeavors.

Luellen as the quivering, unimaginative Dr. Rink is perfectly awkward as he experimented uncomfortably with the idea of a sex doll, and his dynamic with Ramirez as his no-nonsense, insightful colleague is appropriately quirky. Eric Tedder and Amy Hurrelbrink play multiple roles throughout to great effect, with Tedder portraying various soldiers given the dolls to “test out” and Hurrelbrink playing Himmler’s mistress as well as each iteration of the doll, which comes to life as the fantasy of each soldier.

Sexing Hitler is definitely a must-see for its combination of ridiculous hilarity and truly fascinating historical material. The use of adult language and subject matter leads me to advise against bringing your children, but get a babysitter and come down to Off Center for a night with a very original new play.

from KC Metropolis

"Sexing Hitler" Review by kellyluck

The history of the inflatable sex doll is a grotesque but interesting one. As far back as the seventeenth century, sailors were carrying homemade "Dames de Voyage" with them on long trips. In the 20th century, we begin to see commercially manufactured ones, with careful attention to detail extending so far as fluid secretions by way of concealed pumps, etc. But the inflatable doll we generally think of nowadays traces its origin straight back to the Third Reich, where it was developed as a means to combat the ongoing threat of syphilis. It is this story that Sexing Hitler tells with wit, thoughtfulness, and yes, even a little charm.

Heinrich Himmler (Andy Garrison gleefully strutting the line between swagger and camp) orders Dr. Arthur Rink (Parry Luellen) and Senta Schneider (Marcie Ramirez) to develop a "comforter" for the troops so they will stop patronizing French Prostitutes. "We are losing more men to the 'French disease' than to the French guns!" Despite the sheer awkwardness of the assignment, the two work together, managing to produce an item and begin putting it through the rigorous testing with a series of soldiers (all played ably by Eric Tedder), each of which reacts to the doll in his own way. As the project drags on, and more and more uncomfortable truths about gender and sexuality are dragged to the light by way of the doll, Himmler becomes impatient. He wants - demands - the doll be more than a simple comforter. It must be an inspiration, a very model of the Germany to come. It must be the muse that sends the men forward across Europe and the world.

The creative team behind the play are no strangers to the Fringe, and their experience shows. Bryan Colley and Tara Varney have written some very memorable productions, and this will no doubt be another one. The script is sly, witty and incisive and even sympathetic by turns. Interspersed with the historical events portrayed (it is based on the actual history of the doll) are a series of rather notorious quotations on eugenics by various intellectuals and luminaries, performed by Christian Hankel. These provide perspective as the researchers labor to build the Aryan Dream.

Special notice must be given to Amy Hurrelbrink, who doubles as The Doll, and as Haschen Potthast, Himmler's secretary/mistress who ultimately becomes its model. She flips between the roles easily, morphing from gynoid to tittering arm candy almost without break. It is interesting to compare the dual roles: as the story progresses, each becomes the template upon which others impress their desires. In a play filled with strong performances, she is nonetheless a standout.

It takes a certain nerve to pull off something like this, not to mention a not inconsiderable amount of skill. Fortunately, the story is in excellent hands. Definitely a highlight of this year's Fringe, Sexing Hitler is not to be missed.

from KC Stage

"Sexing Hitler" The Rehearsal Process

The cast and crew of "Sexing Hitler" describe the rehearsal process.

"Sexing Hitler" Creating the Play

The cast and crew describe the creation of "Sexing Hitler."

"Sexing Hitler" Cast and Crew Introduction

Meet the cast and crew of "Sexing Hitler", playing July 20-28, 2012 at the Kansas City Fringe Festival.

KC Fringe Festival 2012 program

Program designed for the 2012 Kansas City Fringe Festival.
Cover art by Ryan Haralson.
Check here for a pdf.

"View from the Bench: Two Weeks as a Reality Show Drama Critic" by Kelly Luck

Great article about Project Playwright from the judge's perspective.
"AUTHENTIC BOXING", proclaims the sign outside the building as I pull up, emblazoned above a silhouette raising its gloved hands in triumph. For a moment, I wonder if I am at the right place. But no, around the corner of the building, a more modest sign is hung by the door: "Project Playwright". It is this that has brought me down to the West Bottoms on a balmy Saturday night. The parking lot is beginning to fill up already, and a few people are standing outside, catching the last rays of dying sunshine before the show begins.
read it at KC Stage

"Khaaaaan! the Musical" Soundtrack $5 at Bandcamp

"Khaaaaan! the Musical" is now available at Bandcamp for only $5. That's less than you'll pay at iTunes or Amazon. You can also stream the whole album for free just to prove it rocks. Are you still reading this? Dammit, Jim, click this link right now!

"Sexing Hitler" cast photos

Check out the Sexing Hitler website and see a bunch of cast photos

Tara Varney interviewed in the Pitch for "Sexing Hitler"

If KC's Fringe Festival has a face, it might be Tara Varney's. For the past four years, the playwright, director and producer has been involved with at least one of the festival's 10 most-attended shows. Among the big scores: 2008's Jesus Christ, King of Comedy; 2009's Lingerie Shop; 2010's Khaaaaan! The Musical; and 2011's Hexing Hitler. This year, she and her creative partner, Bryan Colley, have received an Inspiration Grant from the ArtsKC Fund for their latest Fringe work, Sexing Hitler.

The Pitch: How do Hexing Hitler and this year's Sexing Hitler complement each other?
Varney: Sexing Hitler is this crazy story we found about how the Third Reich invented inflatable pleasure dolls to prevent soldiers from fraternizing with French prostitutes. The project is led by Heinrich Himmler, who sees it as a way to inspire his Aryan dream in the SS soldiers and keep the Nordic blood pure. Last year's play, Hexing Hitler, told the true story of a group of Americans who tried to kill Hitler by using a voodoo effigy to put a death spell on him. Both plays can stand alone, but they are designed to be performed together, utilizing the same cast. They are very different, but there are a lot of parallels. Obviously, both are set during World War II and indirectly involve Adolf Hitler. Both involve people trying to harness a fantasy as a means to an end: one for murder and the other to create a master race. Both explore power struggles between people, and both are about using imagination to affect world events. And both use a doll as a focal point for these fantasies.

At the same time, Hexing Hitler is fairly realistic and tells a believable story within a single time frame and single location. Sexing Hitler does away with realistic constraints. It spans several years and also uses poetry, music and dance to tell the story. In terms of style, they are complete opposites.

What's the most outrageous scene you've ever witnessed at a Kansas City Fringe Festival?
A lot of people are going to think that nearly everything in the Fringe Festival is outrageous, and, to a certain extent, it is because it's riskier theater than you're going to find pretty much anywhere else. And that's the purpose of Fringe: for artists to have a space where they can challenge themselves and their audiences, and not stick with something tried-and-true because they have bills to pay.
Not that there's anything wrong with traditional theater — it's just that most companies aren't in a financial position to be able to take artistic risks. There's a lot riding on every decision they make. They've got to keep selling tickets. They've got boards of directors to please. And many don't want to do any other types of theater anyway because they love what they put up, and that's cool, too.
What gets me excited about Fringe is that I know we can try anything. It's a breeding ground for creativity. Anything can happen. Fringe doesn't censor its artists, so it's a really wonderful place to say yes to possibilities, to say, "This really scares me. It may fail spectacularly. I'll do it." Fringe is usually pretty raw. There isn't the luxury of rehearsing in the performance space or polishing the technical aspects for days before the show goes up. Things go wrong all the time. They just do. And the really great thing is, you just deal with it — you move on. Fringe audiences understand that. They kind of thrive on it. They root for you, so it's like we're all on the same team. It makes it a really supportive, party atmosphere.

What local summer productions are you excited about?
I'm not able to see a lot of the shows that I'd like to, due to my weird schedule and finances. Honestly, there are a lot of plays on the Fringe schedule that I'm interested in: Skillet Tag, Thank You Notes, Cultural Confrontation and a collection of 10-minute plays by different authors called Fourplay.

What are you going to do this summer for fun? What are you going to do professionally?
Summers are incredibly busy for me. I teach a lot of summer camps for the Coterie Theatre and Young Audiences. My days are filled with teaching theater, and my nights and weekends are filled with doing theater, so having free time is a real oddity. I'll probably spend some time here and there watching birds visit my backyard feeders. Pretty geeky, I know, but it's fun and relaxing for me. I will probably collapse for a couple of days after Fringe is over, but Bryan and I have already started working on our Fringe show for 2013, and there is already a lot to do.

Sexing Hitler, part of the Fringe Festival, will be performed at Off Center Theatre in Crown Center (2450 Grand) at 6:30 p.m. Friday, July 20; 8 p.m. Saturday, July 21; 7:30 p.m. Monday, July 23; 9:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 24; 8 p.m. Thursday, July 26; and 10 p.m. Saturday, July 28.
Interview by Berry Anderson
Photo by Chris Mullins
from the Pitch

"Sexing Hitler" coming to the Kansas City Fringe Festival

"Sexing Hitler," a new original play by Bryan Colley and Tara Varney, will be produced at the upcoming Kansas City Fringe Festival, July 20-28.

"Sexing Hitler" is the story of the Third Reich's invention of inflatable pleasure dolls to prevent the spread of venereal disease during World War II. The Borghild Project was overseen by Heinrich Himmler, head of the Gestapo and the elite S.S. army. He led a team of scientists in the development of plastic dolls called gynoids. This involved considerable research into suitable materials and construction, as well as much debate about the physical appearance of the doll. Prototypes were even tested with soldiers in the field on the Channel Islands. The details of this top secret project were only recently revealed by the last surviving member of the team, Arthur Rink. 

Although the primary purpose of the doll was to prevent venereal disease, Himmler also saw it as a way to instill the Aryan dream in German soldiers. Utilizing music, dance, and poetry to tell story of the Borghild Project, "Sexing Hitler" examines the power of fantasies to liberate and enslave.

The performances at the Off Center Theatre in Crown Center are at the following dates and times:
6:30pm Friday, July 20
8:00pm Saturday, July 21
7:30pm Monday, July 23
9:30pm Tuesday, July 24
8:00pm Thursday, July 26
10:00pm Saturday, July 28
"Sexing Hitler" is directed by Tara Varney. The cast includes Andy Garrison, Parry Luellen, Amy Hurrelbrink, Eric Tedder, and Marcie Ramirez, and features music by Christian Hankel and Kyle Dahlquist, and choreography by Amy Hurrelbrink.

Bryan Colley and Tara Varney's previous KC Fringe Festival productions include "Lingerie Shop," "Khaaaaan! the Musical," and "Hexing Hitler."

This play is made possible by an Inspiration Grant from the Metropolitan Arts Council of Kansas City ArtsKC Fund.

Tickets are $10 with a $5 Fringe button. To find out more visit and

Project Playwright scripts

Here are scripts I wrote for Project Playwright, a playwriting competition I was in with fellow writers Pete Bakely, Vicky Vodrey, Alli Jordan, and Michael Ruth. The event was organized by David Hanson and Erich McGrew and everything was filmed for future release as an online reality series.

The participating playwrights were given specific criteria for a play at 8:00 pm and had twelve hours to turn in a finished 10-page script. Then at 8:00 am the next morning a director and three actors blocked and memorized the script for performance at 8:00 pm that night. There were four rounds with three playwrights competing in each round, with all the previous winners competing in the final round. The grand prize was $500.

Round 1 (pdf)
For the first round, we were given four airline seats and told to write a farce at 40,000 feet. Each actor had to change seats at least three times during the course of the play. My script turned out to be very Laverne and Shirley.

The actors were Michelle Cotton, Jordyn DeMarco, and Stratton Lamle, directed by Liz Nelson.

I was the winner of the first round so I went straight to the final round.

Round 4 (pdf)
For the final round, our only parameters were that we had to write about family. We were given a bare stage with just four folding chairs. My script was inspired by Black Books.

The actors were Michelle Cotton, Amy Hurrelbrink, and Curtis Smith, again directed by Liz Nelson.

This script was the grand prize winner of the Project Playwright.

KC Fringe Festival Poster

Drawing by Ryan Haralson.

"Sexing Hitler" receives ArtsKC Inspiration Grant

"The Arts Council of Metropolitan Kansas City Board of Directors has approved a $750 Inspiration grant to help playwright and director Tara Varney produce an original one-act play, “Sexing Hitler,” to create a companion piece to last year’s work by her and her partner, Bryan Colley, which was titled “Hexing Hitler.” Their annual offerings at the Kansas City Fringe Festival have been some of the best attended and well-reviewed shows there."

Read a pdf of the award recipients

Project Playwright Finalist

Looks like I'm a finalist in Project Playwright. The big final event is Sunday, April 22. Me vs. two other great playwrights. We'll be staying up all night Saturday writing our 10 minute masterpieces, and then all day Sunday rehearsing with actors and directors. The first round was lots of fun, and I suspect it will just get better.

"Khaaaaan! the Musical" Performance Part 1

The opening of Khaaaaan! the Musical featuring "Science Fiction Movies" and "Too Old for This"

Written by Bryan Colley and Tara Varney
"Science Fiction Movies" lyrics by Bryan Colley
"Too Old for This" lyrics by Tara Varney
Music by Tim Gillespie and Michelle Cotton
Starring Jay Coombes, Kevin Albert, and Bob Grove
Video by Matt Connolly

"Khaaaaan! the Musical" Performance Part 2

Kirk meets Khan in Khaaaaan! the Musical featuring "Khan's Awesome Song" at the 2010 Kansas City Fringe Festival.

Written by Bryan Colley and Tara Varney
"Khan's Awesome Song" lyrics by Bryan Colley
Music by Tim Gillespie and Michelle Cotton
Starring Jay Coombes, Kevin Albert, Bob Grove, and Steven Eubank
Video by Matt Connolly

Auditions for "Sexing Hitler"

From the creative team that brought you "Khaaaaan! The Musical" and "Hexing Hitler," we bring to the 2012 KC Fringe Festival our new play, "Sexing Hitler."

The year is 1941. German soldiers in occupied territories are contracting syphilis from prostitutes in astounding numbers. The disease threatens the stability of the Third Reich. To solve the problem, Adolf Hitler orders the creation of inflatable dolls that the soldiers can carry in their packs to satisfy their urges. Yes, this is a true story.

We are casting for:

  • Himmler: Male, reads 35-50 years old. Hitler's right-hand, the idea man behind this project.
  • Soldier: Male, reads 18-25 years old. Must be able to change physicality to take on multiple roles. Dance experience a plus.
  • Senta: Female, reads 30-40 years old. The textile expert working on the project.
Auditions will be held 7-10pm Monday, February 27 at St. Peter's Church of Christ, 700 E 110th Street, KCMO 64131. 

Auditions will consist primarily of improv and movement games, and reading from the script; you do not need to prepare anything. Please dress comfortably. Bring a resume, headshots would be nice, but not required, and your schedule until the end of July.

Show dates: July 19-29. (We won't have a show every day during the Fringe Festival, but we don't know specific show dates yet.) 

If you have any questions, please contact Tara Varney.

"Khaaaaan! the Musical" Ready for Production

Interested in producing Khaaaaan! the Musical? Here's all the details:

Synopsis: Kirk, Spock, and McCoy must go back in time to the year 2010 to defeat the rock and roll god Khan. They find that the styles and culture haven't changed in the 30 years since Khan became president of the world in the 1980s. They defeat Khan with the help of a valley girl and the "Genesis Device," then go back to the future safe and sound.

Production History: Khaaaaan! the Musical was first produced at the Kansas City Fringe Festival July 27-August 1, 2010 (see the original show page). It was the best attended play of the festival (out of more than 70 events).

Requirements: The cast requires four males and one female. The running time is approximately 50 minutes. Set is minimal. Performance royalties are negotiable and dependent on the size of the performance venue and ticket prices.

Contact: For questions or to read a copy of the script, please contact Bryan Colley at

"Lingerie Shop" Ready for Production

Interested in producing Lingerie Shop?  Here's all the details:

Synopsis: Lingerie Shop is a male fantasy of life in a sexy lingerie shop. Everything is hot and steamy until one of the actresses curses the playwright and quits the play in the middle of a scene. What follows is a Pirandello-styled farce that deconstructs theatre and feminism.

Production History: Lingerie Shop was first produced at the Kansas City Fringe Festival July 22-August 9, 2009 (see the original show page). It was the fourth best attended play of the festival (out of more than 50 events).

Requirements: The cast requires five females and one male. The running time is approximately 45 minutes. Performance royalties are negotiable and dependent on the size of the performance venue and ticket prices.

Contact: For questions or to read a copy of the script, please contact Bryan Colley at

"Maltese Murder" Ready for Production

Are you programming your library's next Big Read? Are you interested in producing The Maltese Murder? Here are all the details:

Synopsis: When a book collector is murdered in a public library, private detective Sam Spade is hired to find the killer. He encounters a host of unsavory characters hunting for a valuable autographed edition of Hammett’s masterpiece that was mistakenly donated to the Friends of the Library book sale. The Maltese Murder is a humorous variation on Dashiell Hammett’s classic detective novel The Maltese Falcon. Using characters and a plot line similar to the original story, The Maltese Murder embraces Hammett’s sharp dialog while at the same time spoofing the film noir genre. The goal of the play is to support the source material in a way that will ease new readers into the book as well as entertain those who are already fans.

Production History: The Maltese Murder was commissioned in 2008 by the Johnson County Public Library in Overland Park, Kansas, as part of the National Endowment for the Arts' Big Read program.

Requirements: The play is ideally suited for a performance in a library environment or traditional theatre. The cast requires five males and two females and the running time is one hour. Performance royalties are negotiable and dependent on the size of the performance venue and ticket prices. The royalty rate for free public performances would be approximately $50 per performance.

Contact: For questions or to read a copy of the script, please contact Bryan Colley at

"Fringe Follies" showing at Gateway Film Festival

February 11, 2012. Featuring the combined works of Central-Decatur & Lamoni High School students and of Midwestern independent film makers. Lamoni, Iowa is located in south central Iowa on US I-35 precisely at the Iowa-Missouri border

Gateway Film Festival

ArtsKC Fund Awards Luncheon

Arts Trek ArtsKC Fund Awards Luncheon
January 27, 2012 at Starlight Theatre
Written by Bryan Colley and Tara Varney
Starring Jay Coombes, Kevin Albert, and Jayson Chandley

Support urged for the arts in KC

Read more here:
by Diane Stafford, Kansas City Star

Kansas City will live long and prosper if it continues to support its vibrant arts community.

The Arts Council of Metropolitan Kansas City borrowed that message Friday for its Star Trek-themed annual ArtsKC Awards luncheon, kicking off its 2012 ArtsKC Fund campaign. The effort aims to raise $420,000 in workplace contributions.

The event on the Starlight Theatre stage took square aim at Gov. Sam Brownback’s elimination last year of nearly $700,000 in funds for the Kansas arts commission, which rippled into the loss of $1.2 million from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Mid-America Arts Alliance.
The message was that loss of government funding makes it even more important for private donors to support artists and arts organizations.
Government employees of Johnson County were honored for the “most improved” workplace giving campaign last year.

Employees at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art also were recognized for their contributions. Other award winners for contribution levels or employee participation in 2011 were Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas City, Stinson Morrison Hecker, McCownGordon Construction and Shook Hardy & Bacon.

Don Dagenais, senior real estate attorney at Lathrop & Gage and longtime volunteer for many arts organizations, earned a standing ovation when he received the Arts Council’s Virtuoso Award for his volunteer support of the Lyric Opera of Kansas City, among other groups.

The Downtown Council of Kansas City received the Impact Award for leading the creation of a public/private partnership that renovated Union Station’s Power House building to house the Todd Bolender Center for Dance & Creativity.

Recipients received awards designed by Caleb McCandless, a local visual artist who works in oil, copper and magnetized steel filings to create three-dimensional work.

The event featured local performers Dance Star, Sheri Hall, Black House Improvisors’ Collective, Octarium, and three actors, Jay Coombes, Kevin Albert and Jayson Chandley, playing Star Trek characters.

The ArtsKC Fund raises money for area arts organizations, arts programs and individual artists. This year’s campaign runs until June 15.

In its first five years, the campaign raised about $2.5 million, 85 percent of which has been returned to the community in grants.

Read more here:

Fringe Follies Review

by Dan Lybarger, Kansas City Star

Many people have imitated the silent comic Sir Charles Spencer Chaplin. Few have been able to properly repeat his uniquely sophisticated pantomime (though Robert Downey Jr. did admirably). Even fewer have managed to be funny in the process.

However, in the 8-minute “Fringe Follies,” Damian Blake expertly re-creates Chaplin’s pratfalls and subtle pathos while simultaneously promoting this year’s Kansas City Fringe Festival that runs from July 21 through 31.

Admission to the festival, as the short film indicates, requires a $5 festival button. And if the promotional video is this good, imagine what the rest of the festival has to offer.

Blake’s effortlessness at capturing Chaplin’s essence has obviously come from a lot of work and a lot of love. On his Facebook page, you can spot a picture of him as an 8-year-old dressed as the Little Tramp. 

According to director Todd Norris (“Candy Apple Red”), Blake wishes he were born in another era, and it shows.

“I never had to do more than three takes with that guy,” says Norris. 

Most scenes, according to Norris, were done in one take.

Because Chaplin was also his own director, Norris says that his end of the filmmaking required some discipline as well. 

“I watched several old Charlie Chaplin shorts, most notably ‘The Circus,’ to absorb the visual and storytelling style of his films,” says Norris. “I shot the movie on my inexpensive DSLR (digital single lens reflex) — the same camera I used to shoot ‘Candy Apple Red’— and used two lenses off an old Bolex 16mm film camera. These old lenses looked more like old silent cinema compared to modern lenses, which are too crisp and perfect.

“Believe it or not, making this short was incredibly easy and fun compared to ‘Candy Apple Red.’ There’s much less fuss when lighting for black-and-white, and since you don’t need a microphone for sound recording, you never have to wait for noisy airplanes or ambulances to pass by.”

Fringe Follies

Promotional film for the 2011 Kansas City Fringe Festival

Produced by Matt Connolly
Written by Bryan Colley
Directed and photographed by Todd Norris
Edited by David Berry
Music by Denny Osburn
Starring Damian Blake, Annie Cherry, and Peter Bakely

Running Gag

Running Gag
Written by Ry Kincaid
Illustrations by Damian Blake
Edited by Bryan Colley
Published by KC Stage

Order a copy here. It's funny!

Hexing Hitler Cast Interviews

Meet the cast and creators of the new play "Hexing Hitler," debuting at the Off Center Theatre in Crown Center as part of the Kansas City Fringe Festival, July 21-31, 2011. For more information, visit

KC FilmFest Program

KC FilmFest
2011 KC FilmFest 20-page program

Hexing Hitler Review by William Carl Ferleman

Bryan Colley and Tara Varney’s daring, seminal Hexing Hitler concerns five persons in the hinterland of Maryland who attempt to curse, or hex, Adolf Hitler in 1941. It is influenced by a LIFE story during the war period. Director Tara Varney perceptively turns the play into a meditation on fascism, not on Hitler so much; save for some rather indirect vein. Thematically, it is not as Der Untergang-like as it is Tempest-like in terms of Machiavellian politics, magic, innocence, knowledge, and wrongdoing.

The principal characters entail the ostensibly erudite and assuredly dipsomaniacal William Seabrook (Kipp Simmons) and the seemingly spoiled, naively submissive girl-who-just-wants-to-have-fun sort, Ruth Birdseye (Melody Butler). Put otherwise, Richard Dawkins would likely describe Ms. Birdseye as one of those biologically promiscuous women, indeed a bona fide trollop. Her long, red coat gives her away. Initially, Ruth Birdseye is reluctant to participate in the curse on Hitler, but she quickly consents—primarily because she wants to please her chauvinistic, fraternity-type boyfriend. Later, she claims she thought the malediction was merely a “lark”, or, trivial game. Unfortunately, she is not taken seriously by the rest of the group, and moreover, she is the butt of several hurtful jokes pertaining to her will and intellect. It seems the party has other items in mind for her.

Actress Melody Butler had a few words to share about her character, ” I think Ms. Birdseye is at a stereotype view a socialite. But more than that she is a person who needs a lot of attention and a lot of re-assurance. She is the life of the party because that is what she was raised to be- but there is something dark inside of her. I think she has an inkling that it is there but has never really expressed it before the night in the cabin. That being said, I don’t think she is a bad person. I think she is a product of her environment- she has been given everything her whole life (except for maybe real meaningful love) and has convinced herself that the things she was given are the things she really wants.”

Notwithstanding, Birdseye soon becomes passionate and obsessive-compulsive about eliminating Hitler; she’s caught in the curse of the moment. At this particular point, Butler’s acting is spot-on and most credible. As Birdseye batters and stabs an effigy of Hitler, she in effect knocks his martial hat and emblematic arm band to the floor; her frenzied facial features and animated body betray her commitment to the plot. She later cannot recall exactly what took hold of her. But Butler’s intense, histrionic technique did not remain unnoticed. Her hybrid acting, a nice combination of trance and a certain verisimilitude, is sound. Birdseye’s engaging and mantic antics during this critical scene are the play’s pinnacle.

Once one is beyond a mannequin bedecked in chic Nazi attire, the social commentary arrives. For example, a coven can effect good deeds and rid the world of a fascist Catholic, please forgive the redundancy. Let’s cite the first line of Hitler’s Mein Kampf, which is conceptually Christian: “Today it seems to me providential that Fate should have chosen Braunau on the Inn as my birthplace”. A rather good, resentful Christian Hitler must have been, but perchance he was a mightier, theocratic propagandist. That members of an occult religion could accomplish an ostensibly ethical thing is still somehow controversial, as is the plain fact that in reality not all Christians are charitable or noble. It’s ironic that the coven uses fascist methods to terminate fascism.

Indeed, the play meaningfully studies fascism, going so far as to show it in action, albeit subtly. Constance Kuhr (Sarah Mae Lamar), Seabrook’s lady friend, notes that official Nazi policy is that the interests of the state trump those of the individual. If you will, a terse summation of fascism. Seabrook and Kuhr are twin power brokers, and they slyly manipulate and control Birdseye, the impressionable dame. Both more than persuade her to perform the hex, and to assassinate Hitler. Birdseye, says Seabrook, is supposedly nature embodied. Being female, she is thus a born leader.

William Seabrook rather is the puppet-master. He informs Birdseye that her personal thoughts of contempt are most important to the curse’s success rate. Furthermore, the Polonius-like tool Kuhr tells Birdseye that her soul must be sacrificed as well but later advises her to bury her guilt with the dummy Hitler’s decapitated head. Kuhr thereby concedes her specific role in the devastating corrupting of Birdseye. Good luck to both, as guilt is tightly wound up with the mind. Hans Frank related that, “A thousand years will pass and the guilt of Germany will not be erased”—just prior to his execution at Nuremberg.

from PopMatters

Hexing Hitler

Written by Bryan Colley and Tara Varney

Produced at the 2011 Kansas City Fringe Festival
Off Center Theatre in Crown Center, July 22-30, 2011

In 1941, five people gathered in a remote Maryland cabin to put a curse on Adolf Hitler and end World War II using witchcraft. This is the true story of what happened that night.

Directed by Tara Varney
Kipp Simmons as William Seabrook
Sarah Mae Lamar as Constance Kuhr
Doogin Brown as Richard Tupper
Melody Butler as Ruth Birdseye
Parry Luellen as Tom McAvoy

Who is William Seabrook?
William Seabrook popularized the word "zombie" in 1927 when he published a book about his adventures in Haiti, "Magic Island," which served as the basis for the film "White Zombie" in 1931. That might be his biggest claim to fame today, but throughout the 1930s he was a best-selling author, world traveler, and journalist. He was also fascinated with witchcraft, black magic, and the occult. Along with writing about voodoo rituals on the island of Haiti, he wrote about eating human flesh in the jungles of Africa, battling alcoholism in an asylum, and joining a Bedouin tribe much like T.E. Lawrence in "Lawrence of Arabia." Not bad for a missionary's son who grew up in Kansas. "Putting a Hex on Hitler" was a photo essay by Tom McAvoy published in Life Magazine in 1941. In the next three years before his suicide in 1944, he would marry his sadistic third wife, have his first child, and publish his autobiography, "No Hiding Place."

Three Fringe Comedies Souvenir Program

A souvenir program for three comedies from the Kansas City Fringe Festival

Read it online

Download a free PDF

Order a printed copy

Khaaaaan! the Musical Cast Recording

A studio recording featuring the original cast of  Khaaaaan! the Musical.

Download at any of your favorite online music stores, including Amazon, iTunes, eMusic, Zune, Spotify, and more. Totally retro plastic disc available at Amazon on Demand. You can also stream the album at Bandcamp.

Ten Rockin' Tracks
  1. Science Fiction Movies
  2. Too Old for This
  3. Khan's Awesome Song
  4. The Illogical Song
  5. Totally Tubular
  6. The Genesis Device
  7. Bones' Lament
  8. I Come in Peace
  9. Science Fiction Movies Reprise
  10. Khan's Awesome Song (KC Fringe Festival Version)
Vocals by Jay Coombes, Bob Grove, Kevin Albert, Steven Eubank, and Amy Hurrelbrink
Music by Tim Gillespie and Michelle Cotton
Lyrics by Bryan Colley, Tara Varney, and Michelle Cotton
Recorded and mixed by Howie at Mr. Furious Records

Khaaaaan! the Musical

Written by Bryan Colley and Tara Varney. Music by Tim Gillespie and Michelle Cotton

Produced at the 2010 Kansas City Fringe Festival
Best Attended Show of the 2010 Kansas City Fringe Festival

Will the space crew stop the wrathful Khan before he exacts his revenge? Of course they will... time is on their side. Go back to the future in this 1980s rock-and-roll Enterprise.  Set phasers to "laughter" and be prepared for a time-warping musical comedy.

Visit the "Khaaaaan!" archive

KC Fringe Lip Dub

Promotional video for the 2010 Kansas City Fringe Festival
Directed by Matt Connolly and Bryan Colley
Music by Ry Kincaid

Khaaaaan! the Musical Merchandise

Display your loyalty to the superior intellect that is Khan Singh with official Khaaaaan! the Musical merchandise at Cafe Press. Your friends will be jealous.

Khaaaaan! the Musical Pre-Production Photos by Maria Vasquez Boyd

Maria Vasquez Boyd presents a monthly series called What We Do Is Secret that explores artists in situ. This month, she meets with Tara Varney and Bryan Colley, who wrote KHAAAAAN! the Musical, as they prepare for the production. The musical runs Tuesday, July 27-Sunday, August 1, 2010 at Off Center Theatre in Crown Center as part of the KC Fringe Festival.

More photos at Present Magazine

Khaaaaan! the Musical Promo at the Kansas City Fringe Festival

"Science Fiction Movies" at the KC Fringe Festival Opening Night Party

Khaaaaan! the Musical Interview on

Bryan Colley, Tara Varney, and Steven Eubank interview with Jason Hunt at

American Family Physician

American Academy of Family Physicians
60th Anniversary Journal Cover, April 1, 2010

Lingerie Shop

Lingerie Shop
Written by Bryan Colley

First produced at the 2009 Kansas City Fringe Festival

A male fantasy of life in a sexy lingerie shop, where everything is hot and steamy until one of the actresses curses the playwright and quits in the middle of a scene. What follows is a Pirandello-styled farce that deconstructs theatre and feminism.

"Lingerie Shop" Review by Panda

Fact or Fantasy

Since this show is billed as a world premier, I anticipate it will experience a few more trips through the word processor. That will be to its benefit.

Five talented women in their underwear combined with a top flight creative team will certainly produce large audiences. I doubt most will be disappointed. While I enjoyed the show, there were some things that I found to be confusing.

The author, Bryan Colley, uses the theatrical device of having the actors shift in and out of character and from acting to direct address to the audience. While that may well be intentional, these shifts frequently occurred in ways that were difficult for this audience member to keep pace. The character names are not listed in the program. This creates another difficulty in keeping track.

It would reveal too much of the story to provide a complete synopsis. Marcie Ramirez as Ms Raven, the shop owner, is in the process of "training" her new apprentice Jennifer, played by Olivia Marsh. Charlotte Kyle plays Ava, an imposing dominatrix, apparently a regular in the shop. An anticipated delivery arrives and Ms. Raven is smitten by the delivery person, Kelli Hahn. Affairs of the heart follow and even the stage manager, Amy Hurrelbrink, and the author (maybe) become involved.

For me, at least, the stage combat, choreographed by Richard Buswell, was the highlight of the show. It was proof positive that the female is the more vicious of the sexes. Everything comes together through the able direction of Tara Varney assisted by Steven Eubank. Techincal coordinator was Tanya Brown and scene painter, Audrey Colley.

from KC Stage

"Lingerie Shop" Review by Robert Trussell

'Lingerie Shop,' 'S.O.S' staged in Fringe Festival
by Robert Trussell, The Kansas City Star, July 25, 2009

Oh, that Bryan Colley is a tricky one.

At the precise moment when mentally I began wadding up his new play and going for a trashcan three-pointer, he turned on a dime and took it into an agreeably absurd postmodern zone.

Colley’s “Lingerie Shop” begins, as the title suggests, is set in a boutique for women’s flimsy boudoir attire. For the first few minutes Colley mimics the plot of a soft-porn film as the black-clad shop manager plans to seduce a delivery girl.

But then, on the brink of the moment of no return, the shop manager (Marcie Ramirez) suddenly begins cursing the playwright for writing such a sexist piece of trash.

Soon the fourth wall is obliterated and we find ourselves in Pirandello territory. The actresses — Ramirez, Kelli Hahn, Charlotte Kyle, Amy Hurrelbrink and Olivia Marsh — find themselves trapped on stage. At one point they implore the audience to just get up and leave because otherwise they could be trapped forever. And they bring the playwright (Parry Lewellen) on stage to pummel him with verbal abuse.

Director Tara Varney (with Steven Eubank assisting) serves the material up as a short, succinct bit of satire that doesn’t wear out its welcome. It’s a clever idea executed with quick, broad strokes.

Jesus Christ, King of Comedy

Jesus Christ, King of Comedy
Written by Bryan Colley, Tara Varney, Michelle Cotton, and Young Han C. Lester

First produced at the 2008 Kansas City Fringe Festival

If you thought Mel Gibson's Passion was funny, wait until you see the one, the holy, Jesus Christ, King of Comedy. It's the hilarious rise and fall and rise again of one of the greatest entertainers who ever walked on water. Learn the true story behind the myth: Was he a man, messiah, or meshuguna?

Rhubarb Pie

Rhubarb Poster
Rhubarb Pie

Produced by the Kansas City Screenwriters
Written by Bryan Colley and Lyndall Blake
Directed by Mitch Brian
Photographed and edited by Todd Norris
Starring Jason Miller, Michelle Davidson, and Scott Cordes

Visit the film's website at Vimeo

Jesus Christ, King of Comedy Review by Robert Trussell

Fringe Festival's 'Jesus Christ, King of Comedy' delivers wacky laughs

by Robert Trussell, The Kansas City Star

It just wouldn’t be a fringe festival without at least one show thumbing its nose at religion.

“Jesus Christ, King of Comedy” is every bit as irreverent as the title would have you believe and the production’s calculated lack of polish only enhances the humor. Seeing a blatantly artificial beard on a woman playing a man is always good for a laugh.

Director Tara Varney wrote this romp with Bryan Colley, Michelle Cotton and Young Han C. Lester, and the first half of the show is hilarious. It tends to run out of steam as it draws near the end of its 60-minute running time, but it still deserves attention for its wacky audacity.

The KC Fringe Festival show basically re-imagines the life of Jesus as it might have been had he embarked on the career of a comedian. Things get off to a very funny start as Mary (Susan Glennemeier) explains to Joseph (Nick Uthoff) that even though she’s a virgin she’s already pregnant.

George Forbes plays Jesus with a light touch and excellent timing. In this version of the tale Judas (Charlotte Kyle) is Jesus’ agent and the arc of the story follows the classic rise and fall of a star.

Making fun of religion is, of course, a popular sport and easy to do. This show has occasional explosions of inspired writing but too often fails to sustain the level of wit that makes the early going so engaging.

One of Varney’s inspired choices was her use of projected images taken from “The Brick Testament,” a Web site where you can find Bible stories illustrated with Legos, for transitions between scenes. You won’t believe it unless you see it, which you can by going to You can also visit the show’s Web site at

"Montage" from Jesus Christ, King of Comedy

This is a scene from the KC Fringe Festival play "Jesus Christ, King of Comedy" by Bryan Colley, Tara Varney, Michelle Cotton, and Young Han.

Video by Matt Connolly.

"In the Beginning" from Jesus Christ, King of Comedy

A scene from the play "Jesus Christ, King of Comedy" at the Kansas City Fringe Festival in 2008.

Video by Matt Connolly.

Jesus Christ, King of Comedy Review by Lorlactica

Jesus Christ: King of Comedy

by Lorlactica, KC Stage

I'm driving down Broadway at 2:15 on Sunday looking for some dance show I don't really want to see because I have missed the 2:00 showing of l'Ange avec des Fleurs. Before I can get to the dance theater, I see protesters outside XS Lighting where Jesus Christ: King of Comedy is playing. Conflict in KC? Yeah!!! I roll up on the venue and park a little ways away in case these are PITA-types who might key my car with a cross for my imminent engagement with blasphemy. There's even an old guy to make it look authentic. I pull my press pass and open my "interview" with the protestors by asking what their signs say. "Save the Laughter for the Hereafter", "God Hates Gags", "Every Time You Laugh, God Kills a Kitten" (okay, I should have figured it out by now), "Parking in Rear"...huh? My bad.

I'm kicking myself as I walk in, which could be a legitimate dance form, and sit down with my embarrassment. Then "Our God is an Awesome God" starts playing over the PA. Even though I fully understand that it is in the context of good-natured blasphemy, my bones rebel and try to crush themselves into wet dust as the chorus of fanaticism rises to a fever belch. I'm on the edge of my seat for all the wrong reasons.

I am not accustomed to intimate live theater. Though the actors seemed experienced and knew their lines very well, I sometimes felt like they were auditioning for a Scorsese film from a helicopter pad. George Forbes, who played Jesus, did a very good job keeping a kooky character in focus. I also liked the "Rise to Fame Montage", mostly because the action was fast and funny. The slide show of Lego apostles engaged in various debaucherous acts was a brilliant little rat running through the Uriah heap of double-, triple-, and quadruple-entendres; some funny, some unnecessary.

Best Line: "I'm Jesus Christ. I'm bigger than The Beatles." And much richer in this play. According to this ensemble of writer-actor-directors, he faked his death while he was at the top of his game, after having a little park-bench sit down with Elvis. Funny premise, though not quite enough to sustain the action for a full hour.

To my surprise and delight, "Childhood's End?" from the album Misplaced Childhood by progressive rock gods, Marillion, sneaked through the speakers at the end of the show. My bones, reconstituted, carry me out to my un-keyed car, still a little pissed that good old-fashioned controversy decided to take Sunday off.

Jesus Christ, King of Comedy review by ajennings

The Best I've Seen All Day

by ajennings, KC Stage

Having had a very disappointing day, I was ready to see a show I would enjoy. This show not only was enjoyable, but had me clutching-my-sides-laughing!

This is not your typical Jesus story, although it does follow his life from birth to death. The scene transitions, which tell a lot of the basic storyline, are hilarious! I just want to know who found all the Legos?

The cast (George Forbes, Jesus; Susan Glennemeier, Mary; Nick Uthoff, Joseph; Charlotte Kyle, Judas; and Michelle Cotton, John the Baptist) is very versatile, with everyone except Jesus taking on many roles, all of which kept me laughing.

All in all, a wonderfully funny show! I encourage everyone to catch the last show on Sunday at 2:30pm at XS Lighting on Broadway!

Jesus Christ, King of Comedy review by Rabid Reviewer

Jesus Christ, What a Comedy!

by Rabid_Reviewer, KC Stage

Irreverent, logical, and totally unapologetic. Devout Christians without a sense of humor are going to hate this show. Everyone else will probably love it.

The script is excellent and funny. The concept is also strong and well-considered. I really, really enjoyed this show, and it has enormous potential to be developed beyond the Fringe Festival.

There are problems with this show, and it has to do with the way it's played. There is a sense that the cast is holding back a little. It seems as if they are aware that this show will greatly offend some people, and they are distancing themselves from the characters somewhat rather than fully embracing them.

Perhaps it has something to do with the good Christian hate mail the show received before opening. Or maybe it is simply under-rehearsed.

The lack of full investment in the characters did not detract from the absolute hilarity inherent in the performance. Even the program adds to the comedy.

The show begins with the immaculate (yeah, right) conception, and treats the entire story of Jesus as a guy who just wants to make it big in show biz. Thanks to Judas Iscariot, his agent, he succeeds. The rest is an E! Hollywood Story of how fame and success led to his ultimate demise, and how some of the tales of his exploits were blown way out of proportion, defying all reasonable logic.

The play makes a good point about religion requiring faith that defies common sense, and how the masses can be convinced of almost anything. Would Jesus be considered a savior or a fraud in today's society?

Frankly, if your faith can not stand up to the questions posed by this production, then maybe you need to re-examine what you believe in.

Intelligent and funny. Needs more work on characterization. Definitely worth seeing.

The Maltese Murder

Original Cast
Maltese Murder
Written by Bryan Colley

Commissioned by the Johnson County Public Library for the 2008 National Endowment for the Arts Big Read

When a book collector is murdered in a public library, private detective Sam Spade is hired to find the killer. He encounters a host of unsavory characters hunting for a valuable autographed edition of Dashiell Hammett’s masterpiece, The Maltese Falcon, that was mistakenly donated to the Friends of the Library book sale.

The Maltese Murder is a humorous variation on Hammett’s classic detective novel.  Using characters and a plot line similar to the original story, The Maltese Murder embraces Hammett’s sharp dialog while at the same time spoofing the film noir genre.

The play is ideally suited for a performance in a library environment or traditional theatre. The cast requires five males and two females and the running time is one hour. Performance royalties are negotiable and dependent on the size of the performance venue and ticket prices.