Shenoah Allen—that dirty, dirty dog—lied to me. A week or two ago, he told me that his new one-man show, Karmic Debt, which just opened at the Tricklock Performance Space, would be extremely dark. He made it sound like he'd be torturing small animals on stage while exploring what it would be like to suffer from the simultaneous effects of leprosy, Parkinson's disease and schizophrenia. He promised a tiny glimmer of light at the end, but I still expected his new show to be macabre and depressing.
It had been a long week. I wasn't looking forward to it.
Thankfully, mixed in with his other formidable skills, Allen is also a talented liar. Karmic Debt is neither macabre nor depressing. It does not involve the torture of small animals—although little people (ie: midgets) come in for some rough politically incorrect treatment.
Parts of the show are actually kind of sentimental and sweet. I distinctly heard, for example, a couple awwws from ladies in the audience. Mostly, though, this is straight-up, hard-edged comedy. Karmic Debt is light, pleasingly stupid and gut-bustingly hilarious. Like most people, I love to laugh 'til I choke. During Karmic Debt, I did a lot of choking.
Regular Albuquerque theater-goers will be familiar with Shenoah's on-stage antics. Both as a member of the Tricklock Company and as a free agent, he's starred in numerous grade-A local productions over the years. He's also, along with Mark Chavez, one half of the lunatic comedy duo responsible for Sabotage, a series of bizarre comedy sketches that's caused quite a bit of choking in its own right.
Fans of Sabotage will love Karmic Debt. One of the Sabotage characters, Jennifer, actually makes a brief appearance near the end of the show. Shenoah uses some of the same kinds of digressionary, logic-twisting loopiness that he exploits to such fantastic effect in his schtick with Chavez. Yet perhaps because Allen's dressed in a T-shirt and jeans here instead of pajamas, Karmic Debt has a distinctly different feel to it. (At some point, I'd like to see Allen's partner in stupidity do his own one-man show. I bet that would kick ass too.)
The stage isn't much bigger than my desk. When you first walk into the theater, you'll notice several objects tacked to the plain black wall, including two mugs, a glass of wine, a water bottle, a flower, a stool and a lit candle set on top of an orange.
Allen soon pops out and begins to tell his story. It's a simple story. Here's how it goes. Allen works for a guy named Bill. Bill asks Allen to deliver a package for him. Allen fails to deliver the package. End of story.
Everything else is footnotes, but don't let that daunt you. Karmic Debt is like David Foster Wallace's famous novel Infinite Jest: The footnotes are where all the action is. Fueled as it is by observational humor, Karmic Debt blurs the line between stand-up comedy and theater. From Allen's mean and totally inexcusable comments about little people to his imaginary pick-up truck to his recollection of a bored Chinese stripper who raps an Eminem song while "diddling herself," he takes hairpin turn after hairpin comedic turn, and you'll never see any of them coming. To top it all off, the ending, trust me, is absolutely brilliant.
The show is extremely self-reflective. Shenoah never lets you forget that you've paid to enter a theater to be entertained.
One of the running bits in the first half of Karmic Debt is that jokes function just like currency. That is, you can use them to pay for stuff. Throughout the show, Shenoah frets about how much he still owes us in comedy if we're going to recoup the cost of our $12 tickets.
He needn't worry. Allen's relaxed. He's comfortable. He's at the top of his game, rolling with the punches, doing what he was born to be doing. All debts have been paid in full.