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.

The Feast

Original CastThe Feast

Written by Bryan Colley

Winner of Gorilla Theatre's 1998 Inaugural Dramatists Festival

Deep in the middle ages, two warring powers meet to settle their differences at a royal feast, but an assassination plot and philandering wife threatens to destroy all hopes of peace. This chamber epic picks up where Errol Flynn left off, and offers intrigue, action, romance, and a double helping of medieval fun.

Unproduced Screenplays

Arc Angel
Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla team up to fight vampires that are trying to keep the industrial age in darkness. Co-written with Lyndall Blake.

A widow's daughter becomes obsessed by a strange musical instrument, and only an eccentric music theorist can help her. Co-written with Lyndall Blake.

Dark Matter
Two space travelers hunting for a kidnapped woman must go deep into alien territory to rescue her. Co-written with Lyndall Blake.

A genetically-engineered pit bull terrorizes Branson. Co-written with Lyndall Blake

Restless Reggie
A New York City cowboy finally gets his chance to go to Arizona, only to find out that the wild west ain't what it used to be.

The story of the Wright Brothers and the invention of the aeroplane.