Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players

Note: This review is from 2004

Review by Steve Bennett

Despite being ill-advisedly listed in the music section at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe, the Trachtenburg Family Sideshow Players were the talk of the comedy grapevine, the hot tip of every stand-up with an opinion worth hearing.

The problem came when their cheerleaders tried to explain what exactly the show was about. However enthusiastically it was sold, the premise sounded too off-the-wall to work, a one-joke idea straining to be weird for weird’s sake.

This genuine New York family, who dress like it’s 1973, collect random vintage snapshots from car boot sales, then create songs based on the lives of the anonymous, and probably now-dead, strangers depicted on them.

Not only that, for extra zaniness, this ‘indie-vaudeville conceptual art-rock pop band’ are as unfocussed as the badly-shot slides that inspire them.

Between tracks, the show seems to be forever floundering: dad Jason loses his plectrum inside his guitar and has to shake it out, his daughter Rachel, the drummer who turns 11 today, asks for water or wanders offstage to whisper with her friend, while mom Tina Piña struggles to put the slides in the projector the right way round.

Slick it is not. Instead, they are the rebirth of uncool, a gently endearing bunch of well-meaning bumblers at ease with their unease. They act so naturally and unaffectedly, it’s as if you’ve stumbled onto an early rehearsal of the show, rather than the finished product.

And, let’s face it, there is nothing like sharing a stage with a tweenie daughter to prick any illusions you might have. During a witty audience Q&A exchange, young Rachel, who is far from the precocious brat you might imagine, starts bickering with her father as he tries to silence the questioner who draws inevitable, if unkind, attention to his uncanny resemblance to goofy Honey I Shrunk The Kids star Rick Moranis.

No wonder disgruntled punters have been known to sigh: "Is this the show?" But the low-key approach, of course, is the joy.

While the family relationships are at the core of this warm-hearted comedy, that’s by no means the extent of it. First, there is the simple charm of the fashionably unfashionable slides themselves, as proud tourists pose outside something called The Festival Of Gas, or we mock the simplicity of pre-PowerPoint corporate presentations.

And then there’s the bizarre songs the Trachtenburgs construct from these unlikely sources, which are inspired in their banality.

The first one they ever wrote was the fairly-self explanatory Mountain Trip To Japan 1959 (even if the year does change occasionally to fit a rhyme), to fit around holiday snaps they discovered, but they’ve since expanded their repertoire enough to include a six-song comic opera entitled Opnad Contribution Study Committee Report June 1977, based upon a soulless McDonald’s marketing report from the time.

There’s even a track bemoaning the number of people who give them slides they say they could never possibly use – illustrated, of course, by those very slides.

True, the actual songs – in a style close to Eighties pop pranksters They Might Be Giants – often fail to deliver on the ingenuity of the set up, but the sheer earnest ridiculousness of the whole pointless endeavour is what makes this show such a quirky, unexpected and unforgettable delight.

Steve Bennett

Soho Theatre

December 10, 2004

Review date: 1 Jan 2004
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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