With my white trash American background, I have a bit of a soft spot for professional wrestling – although admittedly it’s due to Mexican wrestling rather than WWF. So I was excited when I heard about the play Lardo, currently premiering at the Old Red Lion theater. A fat Scottish boy wants to live his dream of being a professional wrestler? With visions of deep fried Mars bars, acres of spandex, and slamming Irn-Bru in my head, I eagerly awaited opening night (well, really, the day after, but close enough).
I walk upstairs into the theater space, and bam! It’s been transformed. The walls are painted in primary colors – including blue for the Scottish flag and red for some lockers – and the entire area has been taken over by a wrestling wring (with the same blue on the ropes). I wonder how it’s all going to work, because either all of it’s actually taking place in and next to the ring, or … well, that big square piece obviously isn’t going anywhere. And as the story opens, we’ve got the protagonist, Lardo (Daniel Buckley, like a round male Judy Garland all ready to use the barn to put on a show), running around in front of the ring while his girlfriend, Kelly (Laura Daral), shoots videos of him on her cell phone. He’s busy promoting himself as a wrestling superstar, although (we discover) all he really has is a persona and a dream – he’s never spent a minute in the ring. Then suddenly his girlfriend asks him to be careful and not step in the sea turtle eggs … what? Oh, I get it, they’re supposed to be outside. As the show evolves, it becomes clear that, for all that it looms, the boxing ring has more flexibility than I expected, serving nicely both as a living room and a bedroom in other scenes.
But the show and the stage truly come to life when it’s time for Tartan Wrestling Madness!!! (which has to be spelled with exclamation marks). Lardo believably talks himself into a show – with some help from a health and safety inspector who bigs him up to “ringmaster” Stairs (Nick Karimi) – and then takes his comic relief spotlight and turns it into star billing. It all happens pretty fast, but what winds up pulling you in is the development of personal relationships between the various wrestlers in Stairs’ stable (a crazy seeming blonde named Whiplash Mary and an old friend of Lardo’s, Wee Man), whose lives become intertwined with Lardo’s. Meanwhile, Stair’s hunger for money is pulling ahead of any concern whatsoever for the welfare of the people who are effectively his employees – and the stunts are starting to seem a bit too real.
In fact, the fourth wall really starts to tumble down during this show, as we, the audience, are sucked in to the drama (who woulda thunk it) of amateur wrestling. The throws seems real, there’s no doubt that bruise on poor Buckley’s shoulder was real, and before you know it, the entire environment seems real. We are at a wrestling match and Lardo needs our support. He’s funny, he’s got great stage presence, and you just can’t help wanting him to win. And before you know it, that feeling is spreading to the whole production. You want Lardo to make it out alive, you want him to get things fixed with his girlie, and you want him to actually live up to the plus size dreams he has for his life. In the end I was pretty amazed – I walked in thinking I was going to be having a laugh and wound up being caught up emotionally with what was going on. I can’t even blame the Irn-Bru. Lardo is a knee-twisting, full body slam good time and just a damned good night out. Don’t miss it.
(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, March 6, 2015. Lardo is booking through March 29th. By the way, Nick Karimi looks super fine when he rips his shirt off for the final wrestling bout. You have been warned.)