Glenn Wool: This Road Has Tolls
Assembly George Square, Edinburgh Festival Fringe
Sunday, August 11, 2013

By Julie Seabaugh

An Edinburgh Festival Fringe veteran several times over, Glenn Wool has the art of delivering a multi-faceted performance down to a science. One can, for instance, kick things off with a light-hearted video featuring hand puppets performing Nazareth’s “Hair of the Dog.” Tales of time spent abroad can temper bewildering experiences with transformative lessons learned. There’s also the option of utilizing as a backdrop a few Popeye slides, the purpose of which remains tantalizingly unclear until the closer’s big reveal. And who knows? An arsenal of geography-related puns might even earn several applause breaks over the course of an hour.

this road has tolls

Like fellow globe-trotting Canadian Craig Campbell, Wool assumes the role of animated and amicable storyteller. His propensity for cutting moments of heightened tension with absurdity (and vice versa) extends to such running commentary as “That joke is nice and sweet at the beginning and ends with a horrible disease at the end. Just like life…” and various ways in which his onstage persona has been perceived. “I’ve been called ‘pointlessly theatrical!’” he bellows of past reviews, eyes popping and arm sweeping wide at the injustice. “’Overdramatic!’ Not once! Not twice! But thrice!”

Wool’s wide-ranging material occupies the sweet spot of taking things just seriously enough to make his point while deftly avoiding preachiness and self-importance. For every chunk on religious hypocrisy, freedom of speech or the Royal Family he’ll find humor in his own foibles, whether it’s learning a neighborhood hotel had to lower its nightly rates specifically because of him, slipping a disc prior to boarding a 14-hour flight fraught with intense turbulence or marveling at his grandfather’s effectiveness in walloping three misbehaving kids with a single blow. (“Back in those [Depression-era] times, you couldn’t afford the calories to beat your kids!”) Wool also takes pride in performing for a “Mystery Night” group of elderly Jews from Brooklyn, a.k.a. “50 disappointed raisins” who arrived via chartered transportation. “Why the fuck did you get on a bus that you didn’t know where it was going?” he marvels. “Have you learned nothing?”

There’s giddily trite wordplay to spare and reimagined airplane humor that culminates in threatening to register as a sex offender to avoid sitting next to children (“I’ve also raped a lot of large women with too much perfume on”). But Wool is also unopposed to taking a contrarian stand on hot-button topics like molestation. Of bandwagon accusers who claim they were abused at the age of 19, he suggests a simple test: “Did you drive yourself to your molesting? Then you weren’t molested!” “Get out of my way,” he shouts, mimicking driving a car. “I’m late for my molesting!”

Though he believes karma is nothing but “Catholic guilt for hipsters,” Wool is nevertheless sincere in his search for enlightenment and unification. As the title of his Assembly George Square production makes clear, there will always be a price to pay based on the road traveled, but he’s just grateful and thrilled to be on the ride.

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