Stephen Tobolowsky is one of those actors; he has been in everything, he has worked with everyone, he has appeared onscreen alongside countless A-list actors under the eye of award winning directors, and he has stories to tell of his experiences, stories “about life, love and the entertainment industry” which he loves to share.
Returning to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe for a residency in the Pleasance Courtyard’s cramped cabaret bar (arrive early to get the more comfortable seats which are ironically those farthest from the minimal stage), it is the nature of Tobolowsky’s show that an assessment of one night carries no weight for the next, as in each of his fourteen shows he will cover a different topic, a different set of memories.
While the majority of the hour is planned in advance, his entrance is prompted by a stage manager who will introduce him as “the star of” a particular project, requiring Tobolowsky to offer a recollection, from Heroes, from Groundhog Day, from Deadwood or Desperate Housewives.
On this evening it is the turn of those rebellious housewives Thelma and Louise, where he states that Ridley Scott directs a film like a general and that nobody “made me feel so old and ugly in my life” as the solicitous generosity of Brad Pitt’s offers to find him a seat and bring him cups of tea.
From here Tobolowsky reads a passage from one of his memoirs, recounting his European trip in the mid seventies and his disastrous return to America, the flea infestation discovered in his flat whose repercussions start as a Roger Corman movie before escalating into John Carpenter and peaking in the body horror of David Cronenberg before collapsing into the farce of the naked cross-town drive, hoping not to get caught red faced at a red light.
Both a sentimentalist and a realist (“flowers and candy are nice, but what a woman really wants are clean sheets”), Tobolowsky is on this evening warm and pleasant but also rambling, the details of his reminiscences packaged as short stories of touching life lessons and emotional connection but which meander to their conclusion.
Akin to an aural Norman Rockwell painting, eating at diners, shopping for clothes in thrift stores, waiting for the bus home, thunderstorms on the Texas prairie, all lead to the play his first love wrote (eventually filmed as Crimes of the Heart) which as described is funnier and more engaging than Tobolowsky’s recounting of the events surrounding it.
On the periphery rather than the focus, Tobolowsky is nothing less than pleasant and charming company, but on this evening his choice of material pales in comparison to the Fringe visit of the legendary Ronnie Claire Edwards with her solo memoir. While that also focused on her career before she became a household name through her long running role as the eccentric Corabeth Godsey on The Waltons, she had a genuinely astonishing career prior to her acting career when she was The Knife Thrower’s Assistant.
That Tobolowsky has had a blessed and happy life is to be celebrated, but his chosen divergence, a thirty five minute circuitous explanation which concludes with him being the inspiration for Talking Heads’ song Radio Head from their True Stories album, later appropriated by Thom Yorke for the name of his band, lacks bite and incisiveness, though does at least contain the exclamation “It’s David Byrne on a bicycle!”