Carlyn Rhamey presents her solo show, Charlyn Rhamey: Chaotic Good, for the Hamilton Fringe Festival 2021. To celebrate her 30th year (as person on this planet), she relates some vivid life experiences for our entertainment—from her time as an unpopular adolescent, desperately clinging to the rungs of a grade-school social ladder, to her adventures as a camp counsellor.
Stylistically, the set-up is pretty standard. She and editor Jesse Horvath model this on familiar YouTuber content with those ubiquitous jump cuts that keep the pace up. There are title cards for chapter breaks—always classy. Her green polka-dot outfit against a bright orange backdrop is a…choice, and I appreciate it.
We get a few funny anecdotes with her eldest niece, Ev—whose got a sharp mind and even sharper tongue. Will she use her powers for good or evil? It is questions like this that occupy her over-active mind.
Rhamey has a natural warmth that is undeniably inviting, but on top of this, she’s honed her storytelling craft with telling details and evocative rhythms. Her comedic timing is on point and so is her writing. She tosses in, ever-so-casually, tangential bits that are insightful and build such a distinctive world.
This is especially true of the people she shows us. There’s Mikey, the boy with Down Syndrome and the shared humour they find in the world around them. Asher, the boy many of the counsellors won’t engage with because they haven’t seen through to the person beneath the erratic behaviour. We get to know them and our lives feel richer for it.
For me, one of the most touching aspects of Rhamey’s piece is they way she conveys how a childhood act of cruelty can haunt us in adulthood. How the trauma of that guilt can inform the adult we will become—sometimes even make us definitively better, more empathetic.
She also excels at nuanced set-ups that can lead to hilarious or deeply moving payoffs without making that structure obvious. We are never aware, as she tells us a story, that we are being primed—even when they play out, as some do, the familiar Hollywood, coming-of-age beats.
Carlyn Rhamey: Chaotic Good is a fine piece of storytelling. Should I call it comedy? It is, sure. But Rhamey strives for more than laughs. And delivers! On both the laughs and the more!