When “Ranch Dressing and Other Coping Mechanisms” began, Kelsie Huff was hiding in the bathroom stall of a church. When she saw the movie “Jaws” as a child, she became afraid Jaws would swim into the toilet bowl and bite her butt. To help her get over her fear, her family sent her on a fishing trip with her uncle who had PTSD. He was fond of staring into the distance, either reliving a Vietnam memory or feeling the effects of marijuana. He told her, “Jaws is in these waters and no one will save you. But you’re a tough girl and you can save yourself.” This is a tightly-written comedy with an actor who can perform the hell out of the character. Back in the church bathroom stall, Ms. Huff read a sign that said, “Ask and ye shall receive. We ask that ye only flush toilet paper in these toilets.” She wondered, “If these people have a sense of humor, they can’t be that bad, right? Why should I hide?” Ms. Huff constantly asked questions like “That’s normal, right?” and “Who doesn’t do that, right?” and “Everybody has nightmares about Jaws climbing the side of their house, using his fins to lift himself, right?” She was always checking whether her feelings were normal and justified, or whether they needed to be suppressed and forgotten, or awkwardly laughed off. If Ms. Huff misspoke, she flicked her tongue in and out of her mouth and said, “Syllables, crazy little things, am I right?” If she walked through a revolving door, she’d say, “Whoa, big door. Almost got squished.” Even if no one saw and no one cared, she’d point out some flaw of hers. Ms. Huff’s sheer originality had me hooked. The freshness of her delivery made me pay attention. Ms. Huff grew up in Richmond, Illinois in a family of drinkers who tore down screen doors and stacked beer cans on countertops. When her father threw her uncle through a wall on Christmas Eve, Santa Claus entered through the broken screen door and tried to break up the fight. Her father ripped a sleeve off Santa’s jacket, making her realize that Santa had the same tattoos that Grandpa received in Korea. She cheered both fighters while, on TV, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer sang, “Why am I such a misfit? I am not just a nitwit. Just because my nose glows, why don’t I fit in?” Ms. Huff’s mother was comfortable wearing colorful boy shorts, while Kelsie herself has worn plain white Walgreen underwear her whole life. These underwear differences represent the freedom Kelsie never felt. Discussing having to take care of her drunk parents over the years, Ms. Huff cried on stage. Her face puffed red and her eyes grew to twice their size. As much as I enjoyed the show’s humor, its sadness took me by surprise. When Kelsie revealed why she was hiding in the church bathroom, every lung in the room stopped breathing. Every pair of eyeglasses fogged up and every eyebrow raised. We, the audience, freezed like the forehead‑slapping waking dreamers we were. We should have seen the signs. We should have pieced this together. But we didn’t. I recommend this show if you want to see how people use humor as armor. Ms. Huff is well‑armored. “Ranch Dressing and Other Coping Mechanisms” Written and Performed by Kelsie Huff Oct. 17 at 7:30pm Photo: courtesy of the production United Solo 2018 Theatre Row 410 West 42nd Street New York City
AUSTIN KAISER is a writer with an expertise in art and the creative process. His writing is about improving your imagination and exercising your empathy muscle. Kaiser is currently writing a book called, “100 Questions Every Artist Should Have The Answers To.” His other book, “How To Go Viral & Put Wings On Ideas: A Book For Content Creators & Young Artists,” explains how ideas travel and which ideas travel best. More at www.medium.com/@KaiserMane.