It's a headline that could have come from the Onion, but it's 100 percent true: Man saved by condiments.
It seems that the man in question survived alone after a car wreck by eating snow and the numerous condiment packets that were scattered around the car.
Most of us would probably read the piece, chuckle, and move on. Author Mary Jo Pehl, of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Cinematic Titanic fame, saw a chance to dig in. A production of her one-man show opens Monday at the Bryant-Lake Bowl. It's produced by Theatre Arlo and features Tim Uren as the titular man.
"I have my own food issues, and I'm a really tidy person. The thing that saved this guy was that his car was so messy that he had lost all of these condiments," says Pehl, the Minnesota native who now makes her home in the much warmer climes of Austin, Texas. "There were a lot of issues that I wanted to explore."
The show was first produced by Starting Gate Productions at the 2005 Minnesota Fringe Festival. Uren was offered the part, but a busy slate made it impossible for him to take the role.
"Way back when, I did a reading of this script at the Playwrights' Center. When Sarah Gioia and Mary Jo were planning to produce the show at the Fringe, they checked to see if I was interested," Uren says. "I definitely wanted to be involved, but since I was already doing two other shows, Sarah wisely chose to not let me destroy myself. I'm grateful to her."
One of the challenges Pehl was excited to tackle was writing from a male perspective. "I really got hung up on that at first, until I thought, 'You know, men are human. I'm human. I could use that as my jumping off point,'" she says. "It became a real experiment for me. We're the same species, so what's the difference? How would he respond to this situation?"
"It's got some very perceptive commentary on how men think," Uren says of Pehl's efforts. "Men believe they think in terms of 'How can I solve this problem?' But often it's really 'How can I make this problem go away for five minutes?' or 'How can I blame this problem on someone else?' We can be very clever in our attempts to avoid thinking too much. He's definitely a real human."
Uren also can see himself in his character.
"He's got difficulty focusing. He can be immature and petty. He makes dumb mistakes and hates to admit it. The script shows him at his worst possible moment, and that makes him seem ridiculous. But it's tough to see him in that condition and not recognize moments when I've been at my worst and remember how I felt," he says.
Uren and Pehl are also busy with other projects, both upcoming and ongoing. Pehl has just published a book, Employee of the Month, and continues to tour the country with the riff-tastic Cinematic Titanic, who will unleash a new cheesy film to tear piece from piece, The Astral Factor (with Elke Sommer!) at the end of the year.
Uren will be living the life of the condiment diet for a while, as the show travels to the Frigid Festival in New York, and "fingers crossed, maybe more festivals after that." A filmed version of his adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft's The Curse of Yig has been on the movie festival circuit, and the creators are hoping to issue the short film in DVD in the coming months.
So, just how far would Uren go to save his life?
"Of course I envision all kinds of heroic exploits. I don't know if I'm quite up to cutting one of my own limbs off with a knife or anything like that. The challenge is knowing how long I wait before I have to do something really extreme to get myself out, I suppose," Uren says.
IF YOU GO:
Man Saved by Condiments
Bryant-Lake Bowl 810 W. Lake St., Minneapolis
7 p.m. Monday, December 28-30
$12, ($10 with Minnesota Fringe Festival button)
For information, call 612.825.8949 or visit online