A shining star in the night

Diana Stokes reviews Dublin’s Fringe Festival’s Stars

“All stars are unique,” says actor Hannah Mamalis in a Shakespearean-style monologue during the faux-serious introduction to Stars, Dublin Fringe’s extraordinary comedy show. This comes after a conversation with one of the show’s many unhinged characters: a Sopranos-esque Italian American man in a neck brace (who totally didn’t see the old lady he hit with his car). 

Each act within the 20-23 September showcase contains entertaining, charming, and concerning characters from a myriad of backgrounds. In 60 minutes, we are introduced to a woman who copes with life’s absurdities and pains through a sock puppet, a dog named Uncle Cum with a truly sad backstory, a prehistoric (yet modernly misogynistic) man, and a French detective with a half-glued on moustache, among others.

Despite the admittedly insane premise and characters, there is nuance within the chaos on display during the majority of the show. The light of the emotional “stars” shines through individual moments such as a dog’s lovingly tear-jerking backstory told in monologue form, and also when an introspective HR disciplinary meeting with a Rumpelstiltskin-core office worker delves into the character’s psyche. These amount to clear insights into how we cope with the inane nature of our everyday struggle to function as adults in an increasingly insane world.

“I was incorrectly framed as the one who hit the old lady with their car”

In addition to her amazing character work, Mamalis’s team also deploys great audience engagement, which I was able to take part in firsthand. In the beginning of the show, lighting operator Eimear Conroy directed the spotlight upon me while a foam neck brace was placed around my neck. This process yielded a few hilarious pictures that were taken of Mamalis and I. I thought this would be the end of the bit, but after some other entertaining crowd work (including acting as an old lady that worked at the Project Arts Centre whose skill was the ability to foresee how various audience members would get cancelled), the spotlight returned to me and I was incorrectly framed as the one who hit the old lady with their car. I was then rushed out of the theatre, handed a pair of sunglasses, and told to stroll back into the theatre as a “latecomer”. The experience of being a part of the show itself added to the already captivating marvel that was Mamalis’s acting, but even without my personal involvement, witnessing her improvised phrases was funny enough.

Naturally, after this masterpiece of a show, I had to ask her for the inspiration behind it. Mamalis cited post-World War II slapstick cartoons such as Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck as her primary inspirations. These cartoons would play before films as ideal watching for veterans dealing with PTSD. The simple, funny, and slightly outrageous characters helped them zone out to cope with their traumatic memories. Stars is her version: a way to cope with the difficulties we faced during the COVID-19 pandemic. Through a combination of slapstick and slightly raunchy comedy, this show burned off pent-up energy and embraced classic off-the-walls fun, while still grappling with our post-pandemic confusion.

Stars is a truly memorable show. Mamalis’s skills as an actress and comedian unite with director Ronan Carey’s unique sensibility to form an hour full of quirks, quips, and  existentialism that never ceases to surprise.