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Reviews of our most recent show, Cabaret Terrarium:

New York:
nytheatre.com

Edmonton:
City TV (video)
CBC Radio (audio)
Edmonton Journal
See Magazine
Edmonton Sun

Winnipeg:
Winnipeg Free Press
CBC Manitoba

 

CABARET TERRARIUM:

2009-2010:

Harrington & Kauffman reinvent, or just blow up, whatever category they're meant to occupy... you'll find it either insanely brilliant, or brilliantly insane, and probably both. — Liz Nicholls, Edmonton Journal

The show is at once absurd and sweet, smart and silly. In fact, the duo could probably just stand onstage doing absolutely nothing and still be hilarious. And I am not exactly sure why. It just is. — Jessica Potter, See Magazine

See more reviews of Cabaret Terrarium, including audio and video interviews, in the links at left.

 


NHARCOLEPSY:

2003-2006: Some of these reviews are on the original websites, and you might have to search for the word "Nharcolepsy."

Edmonton JournalEdmonton SunEdmonton VueEdmonton SeeOffoffoff.com (New York)Curtainup.com (New York)Theatermania.com (New York)nytheatre.comSeattle TimesTheatreSeattle.comthreeimaginarygirls.com (Seattle)Toronto EyeToronto Now Westword (Denver, preview)

2002:

[Raises] the level of comedy to a high art. ...[Exemplifies] the rigorous standards of performance and writing that Fringe plays achieve at their best. — The Globe and Mail, Toronto

We all may be figments in the imaginations of everybody's favourite cabaret singers, Gustave Flaubert and Nhar, but I can't think of a better place to exist. ...[Will] leave you breathless from laughter. Sleep will be the last thing on your mind with entertainment this fabulous. — Uptown Magazine, Winnipeg

The only person in the Warehouse who didn't crack a smile during this hilarious hour of bizarro storytelling was grim-faced actor Richard Harrington... [and] Kauffman performs an abominable rendition of Stormy Weather which will have you chuckling for days. — Winnipeg Free Press

Harrington is a master straight man and Kauffman is a talented physical comedian. — Winnipeg Sun

 


MOTEL CALIFORNIA (reviews from 1998-2002)

(Note: all reviews that refer to Hotel California, Motel California and The Show Formerly Known As are referring to the same show. It was originally Hotel California, but unfortunately that turned out to be the name of a famous song by The Eagles. There might be occasional mention of Don Henley or of The Eagles in these reviews, but Harrington & Kauffman would like to make clear that they have no affiliation, past or present, with Don Henley or with attorneys for Don Henley or The Eagles):

I am excited and a little afraid to see what these two will do next. — Backstage (New York)

The actors have created two totally inexplicable characters who could probably stand on stage brushing their hair for 20 minutes and make you laugh. — Baltimore CityPaper

Their sights [are] fixed unerringly on the absurd. — Orlando Weekly

"I'm watching this for the first time and I'm thinking to myself, what in God's name is this? What is this thing I'm watching? It's not exactly theater, or is it?" Pesce ... realized during the performance that he was witnessing the evolution of a new style of theater. — Albuquerque Journal (preview article)

It's small and subtle, and ineffable bits of comedy snowball to the inevitable conclusion. — Albuquerque Journal (review)

Hilarity meets brilliance in one twisted tour-de-force... one of the most hilarious bits in Fringe history. — Edmonton Journal

Once you get into the right space, all of this is laugh-out-loud, uproariously funny. I have no idea why. — Edmonton Sun

It's rough, tender and terribly funny, and you can't take your eyes off it. — See Magazine (Edmonton)

Hilariously deadpan delivery. — Vue Weekly (Edmonton)

At times, you're not quite sure why their material is so funny. — InTheater (New York)

Well, you just had to be there. — TimeOut New York

"Hotel California" is a triumph... This is comedy of the highest order... It's the best, most imaginative and most thoroughly entertaining comedy at this year's Fringe. — CBC-TV 24 Hours, Winnipeg

Sheer and effortless humor in every twitch, shuffle and utterance. Winnipeg Free Press

Truly strange and hilariously absurd. CBC TV Saskatoon

What's so funny about Belgians? Is it the clothes? The music? Waffles? — Winnipeg Sun

Laugh out-loud hilarious! — Victoria Times-Colonist

One of those Fringe gems that makes you laugh without knowing why. Saskatoon Star-Phoenix

Wildly funny, cosmically intelligent ... worthy recipients of the only standing ovation I saw all Fringe long. Prince George Free Press

 



Reviews of Nharcolepsy:


The Edmonton Journal
Edmonton, Alberta
August 17, 2004

(from an article about the fringe)

It's one thing to promise weird, another to deliver it

...Nharcolepsy, by the New York duo of Richard Harrington and Chris Kauffman, is genuinely bizarre and, I think, brilliant. And there will be those among you who think I'm crazy. This is the team that brought Hotel California to the 2001 Fringe, where it was rechristened The Show Formerly Known As because of threats from Don Henley's lawyer, which is pretty amusing in itself.

If Beckett were funny. ... [reviewer's ellipses] You see, it's not easy to describe, much less elucidate, the uniquely deadpan hilarity that informs this minimalist vaudeville which is happening, for the very last time, before its participants die of hypothermia. It chronicles, in song and dance, scientific commentary, the quest of lugubrious Belgian Gustave Flaubert, "an artist of ze cabaret," and his (mostly) silent companion Nhar to track down the Yeti at the North Pole. We are 12 kilometres from the North Pole, in the middle of a blizzard, helpfully staged by Nhar, who scatters white paper confetti. But we are also 8,000 kilometres from the North Pole, here in a theatre in Edmonton. "The only way to explain it," says Gustave, "is that you do not exist." But "just because you are a figment, don't sell yourself short." We have been provided with ping-pong balls, and must throw them at the stage whenever it appears the pair are about to fall asleep and die.

Why is the story of Gustave's Norwegian grandmother and his "childish dream to find the Yeti," by ancient Peugeot, fishing boat, and finally dogsled, so uproarious? It's almost impossible to explain. But it has a lot to do with the gravitas of the glum, phlegmatic, uningratiating pair onstage: Gustave, who's telling it, and Nhar, in a subservient role, grimly providing theatrical props, costume pieces or audiovisual aids to assist the master in his presentation. The musical production numbers, like The Song Of the Importance Of The European Grandmother, and mime sequences have a dogged, flattened out, anti-theatrical quality that is hysterical. Their timing is exquisite, full of long, agonizing pauses and the tiniest flickering glances.

They've taken the great vaudevillian traditions of silliness and reinvented them. And there's genius in that. — Liz Nicholls

and from the fringe roundup, later in the week:

August 21, 2004

... Something wholly original and bizarre, and not for people who would rather be watching TV: Sorry, the leading example of this enlivening Fringe experience has already up and left town. What you've missed, mes amis, was Gustave Flaubert, a gloomy Belgian, and his slightly apologetic assistant Nhar, in a surreal cabaret called Nharcolepsy at the North Pole, before they die of hypothermia. Meanwhile they take the bottom right out of any previous notions of deadpan. Full of brilliantly stupid, but not stupidly brilliant, moments. The people who didn't love it hated it. — Liz Nicholls


The Edmonton Sun
Edmonton, Alberta
August 13, 2004

Humour is Deadly Serious

For the Nharcolepsy duo of Richard Harrington and Chris Kauffman, humour is a deadly serious business. They crack not a smile as they recount how they ended up dying of hypothermia while chasing the Yeti to within 12 kilometres of the Canadian North Pole.

Kauffman (known as Nhar), the nearly silent of the two, expresses it all when he arises out of a one-man sleeping bag with a blue ball. He places two plastic figures on it and then covers them with shaving cream.

Something quite momentous is going to take place in glacial wilderness.

You may remember the duo two years ago when they convulsed audiences at the Fringe with the deadpan, surreal humour of The Show Formerly Known As ...

Who will ever forget Kauffman's memorable delivery of Blue Moon? This time the performer, who sounds as if he gargles regularly with Drano, does the same service for Stormy Weather.
Harrington, who calls himself Gustave Flaubert, is partnered with his near-mute friend in a cabaret. To prove that he is more than just a pretty face, he plays several toy instruments, including a baby accordion and a zither.

The two, for reasons that beggar description, are on a quest to track down the Yeti who have migrated from Nepal to Northern Canada.

Their humour is both silly and profound. It's all in the timing as they milk every pause for all it is worth, waiting and daring the audience not to laugh.

They provide us with small plastic balls to throw at them whenever they seem to be giving in to hypothermia and we heave them with great enthusiasm when they run out of steam.

Gustave spins his tragic tale in his gumbo Flemish accent while Kauffman runs around the stage coming up with tacky props to illustrate what his partner has to say (plastic packing for snow, stick puppets for the Yeti).

The story comes to a tragic conclusion, but you probably won't notice because you'll be laughing so hard. — Colin MacLean


See Magazine
Edmonton, Alberta
August 16-22, 2004

Existential clowns Richard Harrington and Chris Kauffman wowed me last time they were in town (The Show Formerly Known As) and totally blew me away in their brand-new production: Nharcolepsy, an odd-ball tale of two sad-sack "singer of the cabaret" slowly dying of hyperthermia [sic] at the North Pole at the tail end of a trek they've undertaken to track down the Yeti.  From their mangled, mock-French accents to their quirky take on song and dance numbers, this is a show that never stops entertaining yet manages to be profoundly and soberingly enlightening at the same time (i.e., addressing those HUGE issues of life and death). — Gilbert A. Bouchard


The Seattle Times
Seattle, Washington
September 23, 2003

Lunatic fringe

Nope, it's not a typo. "Nharcolepsy" features a fellow named Nhar who happens to be afflicted with a terrible sleep disorder. A surreal existentialist grab-bag from New York comic duo Harrington & Kauffman, "Nharcolepsy" takes hints from the recent success of "Hedwig and the Angry Inch," capitalizing on the humor of silly European accents, grim lounge singers and odd physical ailments.

Here's the plot, as best it can be reconstructed: Richard Harrington plays a straitlaced Belgian singer named Gustave who, on the advice of his dead Belgian grandmother, treks to the North Pole to hunt the elusive Yeti. The mostly silent Chris Kauffman plays the titular Nhar, a fellow of unknown nationality who follows Gustave to the North Pole for unknown reasons. The audience is charged with keeping the hypothermic duo from falling asleep by periodically flinging Wiffle balls at the stage. Enemies of audience participation, just know this: You'll be so invested in keeping these guys awake, you won't even care that you have to be part of the show. The two are masters of deadpan humor, intertwining a font of Belgian grandmother jokes with a surprising amount of emotionality. — Leah B. Green


TheatreSeattle.com
Seattle, Washington
September 24, 2003

If the sheath of reviews spilling out of the press packet I received is any indication, then Richard Harrington and Chris Kauffman have become the darlings of thefringe festival circuit.  After spending an hour or so as a part of their group hallucination, I think I can understand why.  It's not easy dealing with the idea that one's existence is merely a manifestation of someone else's slowly freezing neural pathways, but Harrington and Kauffman in their guises as Belgian "singer of the cabaret" Gustave and his mostly mute sidekick Nhar, certainly present as amusing an argument as one could wish to justify that this is our actual state of being.

With a head mix of Existentialism and Absurdism, combined with skillful physical comedy, Nharcolepsy is a simple tale told simply and to rib-splitting effect.  Gustave and Nhar are dying of exposure  and hypothermia just a few miles shy of the North Pole, where they have journeyed in order to fulfill Gustave's life long dream of encountering the legendary yeti.  As they slowly freeze on the ice flows, they conjure up an audience out of the last dregs of their functioning consciousness in order to give one final performance, which turns out to be an hilarious recounting of Gustave's early childhood, his fascination with the creature that has prompted this journey, and the resulting trek from Norway to their present predicament at the top of the world.  Along the way, we figments of their imagination though we may be, are treated to their silly antics performed to Gustave's musical accompaniment on a variety of instruments, and are even allowed to engage in what surely must be a wish-fulfillment for many audience members, being able to pelt the actors onstage with plastic golf balls whenever they begin to nod off into unconsciousness.

Kauffman in particular as the seldom-speaking Nhar proves to be an adept physical comedian, while his counterpart Harrington, with his deadpan Jacques Cousteau-influenced delivery style is an impressive story-teller.  Together they conjure an irresistibly infectious world of remote Norwegian village customs, goofy made up songs, frolicking polar bears, and a breakdancing Abominable Snowman.  In description it probably all sounds ludicrous -- which it is -- and incomprehensible -- which it almost is.  But, on viewing, it leaves one with an impression similar to watching Waiting for Godot, if Godot were in fact assumed to be the shadow of impending death.  By the time they succumb to their inevitable fate, Gustave and Nhar have used their peculiar brand of humor to teach us a little bit about the indomitable human spirit and our ability to discover the best part of our selves even in the face of certain oblivion. Christopher Comte


The Globe and Mail
Toronto, Ontario
July 23, 2002

(from an article about the fringes in Western Canada appearing in Toronto's Globe and Mail)

...Two other plays, Nharcolepsy (about a Belgian cabaret singer and his sidekick, who travel to the Arctic to give their last performance) by Richard Harrington and Chris Kauffman of New York, and The Slip-Knot (in which Toronto's TJ Dawe brilliantly weaves together stories about three jobs he had, and the people he encountered through them) raise the level of comedy to a high art: In very different ways, both of these plays are brilliant. They exemplify the rigorous standard of performance and writing that Fringe plays achieve at their best.— Robert Enright


Uptown Magazine
Winnipeg, Manitoba
July 25, 2002

We all may be figments in the imaginations of everybody's favourite cabaret singers, Gustave Flaubert and Nhar, but I can't think of a better place to exist. Richard Harrington and Chris Kauffman of Hotel California are back together at the Fringe to present their brilliant and hallucinatory comic stylings, this time ruminating on "The mystery of life and death." The two wondrously blend crackling deadpan humour and superb physical comedy into a this-time-snowy dreamworld that will leave you breathless with laughter. Sleep will be the last thing on your mind with entertainment this fabulous.— Barb Stewart


 

Winnipeg Free Press
Winnipeg, Manitoba
July 20, 2002

The only person in the Warehouse who didn't crack a smile during this hilarious tour of bizarro storytelling was grim-faced actor Richard Harrington, whose deadpan demeanour is reminiscent of an Andy Kauffman/Stephen Wright blend.

Harrington plays a Belgian mercenary-cum-cabaret singer named Gustave Flaubert who, with his speaking mime partner Nhar (Chris Kauffman), treks to the North Pole to fulfill his childhood dream of discovering the Yeti, better known as the abominable snowman. Stuck in a blizzard, the pair perform their last cabaret before they succumb to hypothermia.

Kauffman, who makes a memorable entrance by rolling onto the stage zippered into a duffle bag, performs an abominable rendition of Stormy Weather which will have you chuckling for days. Harrington also plays the ukulele, zither and accordion, but most effectively, the audience, to produce the sweet sound of laughter.— Kevin Prokosh


Winnipeg Sun
Winnipeg, Manitoba
July 20, 2002

The first order off business in this two-man comedy is to hand out small whiffle balls to the audience. Why? We'll get to that later. As told by one Gustave Flaubert (Richard Harrington), this is the story of Gus's childhood dream to discover the legendary Yeti, a search that took him to the North Pole, where he and his sidekick Nhar (Chris Kauffman) now await certain, frigid death. The play is disjointed, but Harrington & Kauffman have great chemistry — Harrington is a master straight man and Kauffman is a talented physical comedian. Overall, Nharcolepsy is worth the price of admission. And the audience gets to play along. Those balls? They're for flinging at the actors to wake them from potentially fatal narcoleptic dozes .— Jon Waldman


Reviews of Motel California:


Baltimore CityPaper
Baltimore, Maryland
October 24, 2001

An esoteric and thoroughly bizarre comedy, Richard Harrington and Chris Kauffman's MOTEL CALIFORNIA is an entertaining if brief evening at the theater. The 55-minute play tells the story of Gustave Flaubert (Harrington), a no-relation-to-the-writer Belgian man with an incredibly thick accent who hears the Eagles' song "Hotel California" on a trip to Nepal and decides he must become what he calls a "soldier freelance" in Colombia. After spending some quality time killing people, he hears the song again, and the disembodied voice of Don Henley tells him to stop killing people and start a cabaret act. Which he does, with the help of his Harpo-on-quaaludes assistant Nhar (Kauffman).

But all of this is really neither here nor there. Motel California's plot doesn't matter. What matters is the way in which the play displays Harrington and Kauffman's odd sense of humor and admirable acting chops. The pair met in a workshop in 1997 and put together this two-man show, originally titled Hotel California — they changed the name for legal reasons — performing it at theaters from New York to Prague, on the Canadian fringe-festival circuit, and this past spring at HBO's U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen, Colo. Both actors have an impressive list of credentials, including theatrical, dance, and clowning training from institutions around the world. Their study shows in this funny yet understated play, precisely because the plot doesn't matter.

The actors have created two totally inexplicable characters who could probably stand on stage brushing their hair for 20 minutes and make you laugh. Baltimore native Kauffman occasionally holds a paper plate over his head and sings "Blue Moon" in a voice that sounds like he just gargled broken glass; elsewhere he pantomimes various actions that sometimes have to do with the play — and sometimes don't. Harrington gives an intentionally stiff, deadpan performance as the thoroughly humorless yet impressionable Gustave, singing awkwardly upbeat songs about growing up in Belgium or killing people while playing a tiny accordion. And when the two dance... well, it might not sound very funny, but it really is. Motel California will leave you laughing even as it has you scratching your head.— Anna Ditkoff


The Orlando Weekly
Orlando, Florida
May 16-22, 2002

(from a review of the Orlando International Fringe Festival)

...Motel California, on the other hand, is a hoot and a half. Their sights fixed unerringly on the absurd, comedians Richard Harrington and Chris Kauffman mount a sly story of a Belgian seeker (Harrington) who embarks on a new life's path due to the God-like influence of erstwhile Eagle Don Henley. A nearly mute sidekick (Kauffman) provides the stage-managing support to our hero's hilariously perfunctory anecdotes, which are punctuated by silly songs that don't rhyme and a zoology quiz for the audience. You could win a beer!. — Steve Schneider


 

Albuquerque Journal
Albuquerque, New Mexico
January 11, 2002

Staging Revolutions

Joe Pesce and the rest of Albuquerque's Riverside Ensemble have had some amazing experiences while touring their theater productions the last few years. But seeing the hilarious "Motel California" for the first time was one of the most memorable.

"One guy comes out and just starts talking in a Belgian accent about his fascination with Don Henley and the Eagles," Pesce recalled. "Suddenly, he brings out this mute little sidekick of his. He's can't speak, but he's trying to sing 'Blue Moon' because he's never been on stage before and he has an audience and he's trying to emote. "I'm watching this for the first time and I'm thinking to myself, what in God's name is this? What is this thing I'm watching? It's not exactly theater, or is it?"

Pesce, ensemble president, said he realized during the performance that he was witnessing the evolution of a new style of theater.

"These guys are creating something completely original, packing it in a suitcase and going," Pesce said.

It's that sense of wonderment and do-it-yourself theater productions that Pesce wants Albuquerque theatergoers to experience when Riverside reprises the Revolutions International Theatre Festival, beginning Tuesday, Jan. 15.

Also on the eclectic bill during the three-week festival are "Tears of the Ditchdigger" by the Djalma Primordial Science Laboratory, previously of Berlin and New York City, but now located in Questa; the renowned Bread and Puppet Theater Company of Vermont; "Live Girls Do Elektra" by the Seattle-based Macha Monkey Productions; "Sabotage II," the absurdist improv piece created by local actors Shenoah Allen and Mark Chavez; and the Riverside Ensemble, performing bits from its upcoming season.

The late-night Reptilian Lounge will also run on three consecutive Saturday nights.

More than anything, Pesce wants to expose Albuquerque audiences and theater people to something they probably won't see here.

The show is curated from among the scores of theater groups that Riverside has crossed paths with in Canada and Europe since it began touring in 1995.

"The mandate is that these companies have to be creating new work that they originate themselves," he explained.

In addition, Pesce is looking for theater styles not usually seen here and a willingness of the groups to teach University of New Mexico theater students the styles.

"We all came out of the UNM Theatre Department," Pesce said. "We have a devotion to our old department."

The festival kicks off Tuesday, Jan. 15, at the Riverside Theatre with a party featuring food, live music and special guests.

On Thursday, Jan. 17, Bread and Puppet Theatre director Peter Schumann presents "Fiddle Talk," during which he plays musical instruments, chants, talks about the state of the world and about the company's mission.

During week three, Bread and Puppet will present "Insurrection Mass: A Funeral for a Rotten Idea," a satirical and political look at the modern world. Before the shows, the company will bake and distribute bread outside the Center for the Arts at UNM.

The company started in New York City about four decades ago, Pesce said.

"The most important thing about them as an addition to the festival, as sort of the grandfather company ... is that we have these physical comedy companies, retellings of Greek tragedies, original clown pieces and butoh theater and this piece, that shows an example of how to weave politics and art together successfully politics and puppetry, larger-than-life characters and masks."

"Live Girls Do Elektra" features actresses Kristina Sutherland and Desiree Prewitt, who wrote the piece.

"They do a modern version of the Electra-Agamemnon Greek tragedy set in modern suburbia, and it's very funny," Pesce said. "They call it a 'gin-soaked suburbia.' It's a little like if you were to take a Greek tragedy and cross it with 'Bewitched,' or 'I Dream of Jeannie.' "

"Tears of a Ditchdigger" is an example of butoh theater, a combination of live music, structured improvisation and dancing. The avant-garde Japanese art form was created in the '60s and strives for spontaneity, emotional honesty and a connection to the primitive, through abstract body movements.

Pesce said the theater business is tough all over and the groups appearing here are examples of people who did not wait for work to come to them.

"When you get out of school, you don't have to just walk out the front door of the theater department and say, 'wow, there's no jobs for me. I'll just go to work at the bank,' " Pesce said.

"You can sit down with a friend, write a play, rehearse it, create it, book it in festivals yourself. And you can do that and you can live off of that," Pesce added.

"They're ambitious and creative and a brilliant inspiration for UNM students." Anthony Dellaflora


 

Albuquerque Journal
Albuquerque, New Mexico
January 20, 2002

(from a review of the Riverside Theater's "Revolutions International Theatre Festival 2002")

...At the Outpost, Richard Harrington and Chris Kauffman's "Motel California" is a million miles from "Elektra" in style and tone. It's small and subtle, and ineffable bits of comedy snowball to the inevitable conclusion.

It's the story of Belgian Gustave Flaubert (Harrington) with Kauffman's Nhar as sidekick, chorus and stage manager.

Nhar starts the show with a medley of "Blue Moon," "You Send Me," and "Rocket Man" in a hoarse, halting voice.

Then Flaubert, with a ridiculous French-Belgian accent, reads the story of a menage a quatre with Don Henley of the Eagles and three working girls with great seriousness and intensity.

Flaubert then tells us the story of his life, growing up in southern Belgium, trekking in Nepal and working as a mercenary in Colombia. Henley appears to him in two visitations, and by the end of the show, he's sung karaoke style "Hotel California," a really silly song.... — Ann L. Ryan


The Edmonton Journal
Edmonton, Alberta
August 18, 2001

Hilarity meets brilliance in one twisted tour-de-force

Not much of a title, but there is a cosmic point in this twisted tour-de-force conceived and performed by Americans Richard Harrison [sic] and Chris Kauffman that ranks as one of the most hilarious bits in Fringe history.

I won't spoil it, but it's the finale, an Andy Kauffman moment arguably funnier than anything Andy ever did.

Harrington plays Gustav [sic] Flaubert, in this reading a 39-year-old Belgique whose life-transforming revelation happened on a pre-university trip to Nepal, when the disembodied voice of Don Henley spoke to him and pointed to the last verse of Hotel California as the key to Gustav's future. As anyone would discern, that involved becoming a paid mercenary, a "soldier freelance" (delivered a la Hercule Poirot) in Colombia, killing his way into a pleasant middle-class life in Cali with a high-tech submachine-gun.

Aided by his tuqued, clownish aide-de-camp Nhar (Kauffman), we're led down Gustav's critical path, guided in important ways at key intervals by the inspiration of the ex-Eagle and the inclusion of a variety of expository ditties performed on the concertina (petite) by M. Flaubert, whose head is square enough to level an I.M. Pei building. Music stretches from Orff to The Gipsy Kings, and Patricia Buckley's directiono is suitably straight-ahead in a charmingly low-tech stage design.

There is brilliance in this cabaret/clowning.

Originally titled Hotel California, Messrs. K and H were slapped with a cease-and-desist order by Eagles lawyers, anxious to protect copyright.

Well.

Don and the boys in Hawaiian shirts and twin Beemers should be proud to be associated with a work of this distinction. — Alan Kellogg


 

The Edmonton Sun
Edmonton, Alberta
August 24, 2001

A baffling play but big laughs

I'm speechless. There are two shows at the Fringe this year that render me incapable of words. One is Pure Hoopal. And the other is The Show Formerly Known As.

What are these shows about? What is it they do? And why are they so funny?

Let me try to give you some idea.

There's this guy — Chris Kauffman — I think. He doesn't say much. In fact, he's mostly a mime. Anyway, he comes out on stage and sings Blue Moon in a voice that sounds like he's been gargling with Drano.

While he sings, he holds a paper plate on the end of a fork over his head. He seems surprised it's there.

Then this other guy comes out. He tells us he's from Belgium. At least I think he says he's from Belgium because he speaks in an accent so thick as to be almost impenetrable. He's Richard Harrington — I think. Harrington is so deadpan as to make the Old Strathcona fireman's statue look like Speedy Gonzales. While Harrington is telling us about his career as a ruthless mercenary (actually I think he calls it a "soldier of freelance") in Colombia and Nepal in this pea soup accent and carrying this plastic toy gun (I am not making this up), Kauffman runs around miming out parts of his story, playing the music, setting up the mikes and generally acting as a major domo.

Every once in a while Harrington sings a song that neither rhymes, scans nor makes much sense.

At one point he decides to dance, and there hasn't been such a display since St. Vitus went to his reward.

Once you get into the right space — all of this is laugh-out-loud, uproariously funny.

I have no idea why. — Colin McLean


See Magazine
Edmonton, Alberta
August 21-26, 2001

Richard Harrington and Chris Kauffman offer the sort of engaging inventiveness that one wants to see more of. Both performers seeize the attention, but it's Kauffman who steals the show with his talent for mime, his plaintively hoarse voice and his delightfully expressive face. It has something to do with Walden Pond, the life of a mercenary and, well, Don Henley. It's rough, tender adn terribly funny, and you can't take your eyes off it. I'm not entirely sure I know what this show is about, but I wouldn't mind seeing it again all the same. — Kevin Wilson


Vue Weekly
Edmonton, Alberta
August 23-29, 2001

What do Thoreau, Don Henley, the jungles (?) of Nepal and William S. Burroughs have to do with each other? Apparently not a lot, but that doesn't stop the Belgian mercenary Gustave Flaubert (Richard Harrington) and his touqued sidekick and straight man Nhar (Chris Kauffman) from telling their story. With a hilariously dead pan delivery they weave their tragic tale all the way to the big finale — the singing of the song that used to be the play's namesake until Don Henley pulled the plug — hint: think hotel in a west coast state — showing the world he no longer has a sense of humour. It's a good thing this duo has enough for all. — P.D.


TimeOut New York
New York, New York
May 11-18, 2000

Things that make you go hmm

Harrington and Kauffman bring their inexplicable comedy show to the Westbeth.

The most inspired comedy is usually the kind you try to describe before following it up with "Well, you had to be there." By this theory, Richard Harrington and Chris Kauffman hit the big time when a recent favorable review of their show Hotel California said basically that and added, "At times you're not quite sure why their material is so funny."

Like the critics, audiences have been responding favorably to the duo's show during performances at the St. Mark's Theater, the New York International Fringe Festival and even the Mezi Ploty Festival of Theater in Prague. For the next four Sundays, Harrington & Kauffman will be performing Hotel California at the Westbeth Theatre Center.

So now that you've been told how indescribable the show is, it's time for the description. (Of course, in situations like these, it's best to go ask the artist.) "Ostensibly, it's about two characters trying to put on a cabaret," says Harrington. "One is a former mercenary, the other is this mysterious character that barely speaks. It's basically a clown show."

Wondering about the familiar title? Yes, the classic Eagles song also factors into the show. "A large part of the story," continues Harrington, "is one character hearing the song in various places — and it tells him to do things." At least it's not "Helter Skelter." — Greg Emmanuel


InTheater
New York, New York

September 20, 1999

(from a review of the Pure Pop Festival)

... On the opposite end of the entertainment spectrum is Hotel California at NADA 45, featuring the talented comedy duo of Richard Harrington and Chris Kauffman. Harrington plays Gustave Flaubert, a mercenary from Belgium who has given up his life of killing to star in his own cabaret show; Kauffman is his mostly silent assistant, Nhar. At times, you're not quite sure why their material is so funny. Is it Harrington's cartoonish Belgian accent? His deadpan delivery? Kauffman's confused facial expressions or thin, scratchy singing voice? The two actors work well together and with the odd guest artists they bring in (which at the performance I attended included a zany pair of dancers grooving to a medley of songs from the '70s and early '80s, a supposedly French professor who literally demonstrated humankind's evolution, and a folk singer crooning a love ballad to his stuffed monkey). The show fits in perfectly with the festival's exploration of popular culture, drawing from rock music, vaudeville, and several other sources for inspiration.Dan Bacalzo


Back Stage
New York, New York
February 11-17, 2000

Each August, the New York International Fringe Festival offers everything from deconstructed Brecht to bright-eyed solo performance to undefinable oddities like "Hotel California," which is being revived through March 3 at the St. Mark's Theater.

"Hotel California" is my favorite kind of Fringe production: a couple of skilled performers with a dangerously subtle sense of comedy and an impassioned embrace of no-budget theater. The show, directed by Patricia Buckley, is ostensibly an earnest attempt at New York cabaret performance by a former mercenary killer from Belgium named Gustave Flaubert (Richard Harrington). Gustave believes the voice of singer/songwriter Don Henley of the '70s supergroup the Eagles — whose rock anthem lends the show its title — has led him to this new career.

The faithful sidekick to this assassin-turned-song-stylist is the barely audible Nhar (Chris Kauffman). Nhar opens the show with a raspy rendition of "Blue Moon," which he delivers to a styrofoam plate held over his head on the end of a marshmallow fork. You might have to see this to understand how hilarious it is.

Both performers have a gift for props, whether it's a toy accordion or a string of owl-shaped lawn lanterns that acquire an unexpectedly sinister air with the right background music. Elizabeth Greenman's lighting meshes nicely with the sound design of Harrington, Kauffman, and Ian P. Murphy. The wild cards in this evening of controlled chaos are guest artists like Spencer White, a fantastic guitar player and folk singer who, at a recent show, performed a wildly catchy ode to fiber supplements, and Dr. Nicki, a seemingly unassuming woman who rather convincingly spoke the language of dolphins.

The program states that "Hotel California" is Harrington & Kauffman's first project together. I am excited and a little afraid to see what these two will do next. — Andy Buck


CBC-TV 24 Hours
Winnipeg, Manitoba
July 22, 2000

If you had told me that a play about a Belgian mercenary who leaves the dispensing of death to become a cabaret singer because of psychic visitations from Don Henley would become one of my favourite Fringe shows, I would have recommended you for the shirt with the long sleeves. But "Hotel California" is a triumph. Both Richard Harrington as the mercenary, Gustave Flaubert, and Chris Kauffman as Nhar, his solicitous assistant, are perfect in their respective roles. Harrington's dead-pan seems a miracle in the face of what he's saying (and singing), not to mention what Mr. Kauffman is up to. This is comedy of the highest order and I've never heard a version of The Eagles' classic song that I like as much as this one. Sell all your old albums if you have to in order to catch this show. Along with the Hoopals, it's the best, most imaginative and most thoroughly entertaining comedy at this year's Fringe. — Robert Enright, CBC 24 Hours


Winnipeg Free Press
Winnipeg, Manitoba
July 26, 2000

Since it premiered, critics all over North America have been left unable to adequately describe the wonder and pleasure that is Hotel California. This brief review will be no different.

The largest hurdle in the way of an adequate description is the magnificent but unusual humour of Chris Kauffman, who plays the role of Nhar, and Richard Harrington, who is Gustave Flaubert. Together, Nhar and Gustave are a comedic team of clockwork precision that are able to send their audience into convulsion with a single unblinking gaze from their Spartan stage.

Kauffman's Nhar is very nearly a mime (you'll have to buy a ticket to figure out what that means) and he is also the tiny hamster that makes the play's moving parts hum. Harrington's Gustave is, well, difficult to describe. Imagine comic Steven Wright trying to do Peter Sellers' Inspector Clouseau. (Once again, seeing will be believing.) Together, they present a twisted and demented ode to Don Henley, singer-songwriter and apparently fan of the world's oldest profession.

What finally makes Hotel California hum, however, is the sheer and effortless humour in every twitch, shuffle and utterance. Although not for everyone, those with a healthy and broad-minded sense of humour will definitely get it. You just won't be able to describe it. — Dan Lett


The Westender
Vancouver, British Columbia
September 11, 2000

This silly cabaret is a toy box full of way-off-the-wall surprises. Gustave Flaubert (Richard Harrington), aided by the downtrodden Nhar (Chris Kauffman) tells us why Don Henley is great. He begins by reading a passage from a soft-porn novel written by pros who allegedly serviced Henley, and who claimed to have exclaimed during the act, "Oh, Don, you're the king!" and "Check me into the Hotel California!"

Flaubert is first smitten with the '70s anthem while on holiday in Nepal, and hears "Don speak to me. It was clear. I had to kill people." (At this point, Nhar rushed out with a plastic crossbow). It was also Nhar's duty to provide interpretive dance for the non-rhyming, autobiographical tunes Flaubert spoke-sang, accompanying himself on squeezebox. There's even an audience game where the winner gets a Belgian beer and their snapshot taken on stage. And, yes, after a funny 55 minutes, you can leave. — Leanne Campbell


CBC TV Saskatoon
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
August 9, 2000

"Hotel California" defies description. New York's Richard Harrington and Chris Kauffman present an odd, odd story with determined, dead pan delivery. And it works. Yes, the tale of a Belgian mercenary who gives up his life of killing for a life in the cabaret — all thanks to Don Henley and the song, "Hotel California" — somehow works. It's one of the best things at the Fringe — truly strange and hilariously absurd. — Jennifer Weber


The Times-Colonist
Victoria, British Columbia
August 28, 2000

On paper, there's nothing funny about Hotel California.

It's a two-man show. One fellow, named Nhar, is a really good mime with a really bad voice. The other, Gustave Flaubert, is a really bad singer, a really bad musician and an even worse dancer.

As Gustave tells his life-story — about growing up in Belgium, his trip to Nepal, his career as a freelance killer in Colombia and the pair of epiphanies he had listening to the Eagles' Hotel California on the radio — Nhar illustrates with mime. He also serves as props master, sound and lighting tech and general flunky for Gustave's performance.

None of that may sound particularly funny. But this show is laugh-out-loud hilarious.

It's all in the delivery — or lack thereof. Gustave (played by New York-based actor and director Richard Harrington) serves up a perfectly stone-faced diatribe. The impeccably dressed storyteller never so much as cracks a smile throughout — even as he plays his tiny squeeze-box accordion for the third time (same four-line tune, different non-rhyming lyrics, once in Spanish).

Nhar (played by fellow New Yorker Chris Kauffman) is all wide-eyed servitude, taking care of Gustave's every need. Only once does he lose his head, when he becomes so overcome by the music that he takes off in a non-Gustave-sanctioned direction.

Funny, funny stuff. — Diane Dakers


Prince George Free Press
Prince George, British Columbia
August 21, 2000

Hotel California gets my vote for the show among shows. It was wildly funny, cosmically intelligent and acted by two absolutely wonderful dramatists. Richard Harrington and Chris Kauffman were worthy recipients of the only standing ovation I saw all Fringe long. Truly unique and impressive in spirit and presentation. — Frank Peebles


Winnipeg Sun
Winnipeg, Manitoba
July 25, 2000

What's so funny about Belgians? Is it the clothes? The music? Waffles? Well, whatever it is, Richard Harrington seems to have nailed it with his character, Gustave Flaubert. Aided by his strange, Igor-like, clown sidekick, Nhar (Chris Kauffman, whose raspy-voiced renditions of Blue Moon and Rocketman get enormous laughs), Harrington's performance keeps audiences rolling in the aisles. — Peter Vesuwalla


The Vancouver Sun
Vancouver, British Columbia
September 7, 2000

Although it veers toward being too twee, this is still a charming little spoof. Richard Harrington stars as Gustave Flaubert, not the author of Madame Bovary but a rather boring Belgian whose career choice (soldier of fortune) is based in ethereal encounters with The Eagles' drummer Don Henley (thus the show's title, with the tune to be performed in hilariously bad deadpan).

Chris Kauffman is Nhar, a floundering assistant who opens the show with a deliberately garbled rendition of Blue Moon and then spends his time falling all over Flaubert. Why we'd be interested in this schlep's disjointed nonsense, delivered in fractured English, is precisely what's so funny about this homage to absurdism. — Peter Birnie


The Star Phoenix
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
August 10, 2000

This oddball comedy is one of those Fringe gems that makes you laugh without knowing quite why. It's so absurd, it defies description.

Hotel California features Richard Harrington as Gustave Flaubert, a Belgian mercenary-turned-cabaret-performer. Chris Kauffman is his sidekick, Nhar.

It's the story of how Gustave's life has been shaped by his all-time hero, Don Henley of the Eagles, and in particular, the classic '70's tune Hotel California. The tale unfolds through their attempt at putting on a cabaret show, which is unquestionably bad.

Nhar opens the show with an eccentric rendition of Blue Moon. His raspy voice is barely audible as he holds up the moon: a Styrofoam plate attached to a fork.

Gustave then makes his grand entrance, starting out with a weird tale about Henley's alleged penchant for prostitutes. He backtracks to his childhood days growing up with his best friends Jean-Paul and Paul-Pierre and then moves on to tell how he came to choose a career in killing. In between, there's a pop quiz with the prize of an imported beer. It all gets stranger from there.

Harrington is a top notch performer, his deadpan delivery bang-on. His character is exceptionally well-drawn, from his subtle mannerisms and little asides to his quirky accent that is reminiscent of Peter Sellers' Inspector Clouseau at times.

Kauffman's clownish character, who is mostly silent, moves the action along, adding laughs with his subtle physical comedy.

The show's finale is an absolute riot: Gustave sings a passionate version of the venerable Hotel California, complete with props and goofball dancing.

Check into the Hotel California early. It's sure to be a sellout. — Jenny Gabruch

 

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