It’s a lucky night when world-travelling-storyteller Jon Bennett is in town premiering a show. No one can observe life quite like Bennett. His delivery is infectious. I think of a little kid who can’t get the whole plot out quickly enough and keeps remembering some interwoven but suddenly essential subplot. In consequence, Bennett’s shows feel like they are teetering on a precipice of chaos, held only to earth by the slender thread of a powerpoint. Yet every time, my favourite Australian performer delivers material that is both hysterical and heartfelt. He certainly did in tonight’s show, Aussie Rules Footy (Playing with Men), premiering in the Solos Festival. Bennett’s latest one-man show has to do with the way hopes and dreams actualize in unexpected ways.
While we eventually learn what happens to Bennett’s two earliest dreams, being David Attenborough and playing Australian rules football, Bennett takes us on a journey that goes back to growing up in rural south Australia. We meet his pet pig and pet cow, his grandparents who aren’t really his grandparents, and a team of footballers with nicknames like Peewee and Big Dick. Interspersed between these tales are home videos of Bennett ruthlessly asking questions of his friends and clips of Bennett’s early foray into making a television show that is deliciously un-politically correct. He shares childhood drawings of whales and cow-pigs, photos, and other random goodness.
Perhaps the best moment of the show — and one that may belong only to those of us lucky enough to have seen the premiere — is when Bennett failed to share a poem he had written about his fake grandparents’ deceased dog. Unable to recite it at the point intended, we audience members compelled Bennett to share it at the end. He choked up as he did so, appropriately cursing us every other line for our insistence. While initially he mocked his own poetic skills, by the end, the emotional weight won out.
This poem is the perfect example why Bennett is so excellent as a performer. His authenticity is disarming and invites self-reflection. He doesn’t hide behind his humour or have a schtick. Bennett is so honest about himself, so uncensored and willing to share himself as he is. He talks about events and things that other people would rather forget — and not just the ones that are embarrassingly funny, but also the ones that show a raw, sensitive heart. Just hearing Bennett has the sensation of making one a better person, because he invites the same kind of recognition as he accepts in himself. We are all perfectly imperfect beings.
That, and he really likes animals.
While Aussie Rules Footy (Playing with Men) is a work in progress, I strongly encourage everyone to catch Bennett’s show about his relationship to his brother, Fire in the Meth Lab, on November 27 at the Mainline Theatre, also part of the Solos Festival. 10 p.m. $15/25 for two shows. Tickets HERE. Our interview with Bennett about Fire in the Meth Lab and My Dad’s Deaths is HERE.