Many people wish to be famous, successful, or simply stand out from the crowd. Mr Dennis, however, only ever dreamed of being ‘normal’, or at least the kind of normal dictated by his south west Kansas upbringing. This story is told in a show combining original songs with the story of how Mr Dennis pursued a ‘normal’ married life at the expense of his true identity as a gay man. Out of the three shows brought to the Fringe by Dennis Elkins, A Trilogy: blood (line) is the only musical, and the only one to see him joined on stage (in this performance he is accompanied by an assistant on the keyboard). This otherwise solo venture combines original songs with the kind of autobiographically inspired storytelling which will be familiar to anyone who has seen A Trilogy: bag-- or A Trilogy: box.
A warm hearted performance
The show opens with a jovial number that pays tribute to everyone who has had an impact on Mr Dennis’ life, whether positively or negatively. It’s a warm hearted performance that sets the scene for the generally gentle tale to come. Elkins is excellent at painting a picture for his audience. The characters he introduces – such as his piano-teaching grandmother (‘mom-mom’ as she’s known) – come lovingly to life through his recollections. That’s not to say that everything is sugar and spice; Elkins manages to avoid becoming saccharine. For example, the nautically inspired categories he places people into are not entirely complimentary. He describes some people as anchors: they ground you, but still give you the option to sail your own path when you need to. Others are moorings: securing you to a steady place, which might seem safe, but can also be very dangerous in a storm. He also says he occasionally meets a barnacle...let’s just say that’s code for someone who is really rather irritating indeed. These segments give the show some much needed edge, as well as an interesting framework to help you understand Mr Dennis’ outlook on the world.
Elkins is reminiscent of a kindly uncle, enthusiastically telling you a story by the fireside, with a glint in his eye and a spring in his step. The songs are varied in style, although they’re unlikely to burrow their way into your memory. Perhaps the most successful is the humorous ballad dedicated to his mom-mom’s formidable bridge playing neighbour, an arch exaltation performed with glorious gusto and receiving plenty of laughs as a result.
Although there is one brief but moving allusion to the AIDs epidemic in the 80s, Elkins likes to keep his narrative light-hearted for the most part. It’s clear to see that he has a glass half full approach to life, and is happy with the outcomes he’s reached so far. However, living a closeted life, the loss of his son, the break-up of his long-term marriage (even if it’s clearly for the best): these events all feel as though they are deprived of their expected emotional weight. Elkins clearly has the acting chops to not always have to be so whimsical, and it would be interesting to see him draw deeper into his range to bring more contrast between the light and the dark times recounted.
Seen just on its own, A Trilogy: blood (line) is a testimonial to the fact that there’s no one right way to live your life, as long as it’s lived with compassion and an open mind. Seen alongside the two parts of the ‘trilogy’, you get to understand another piece of Mr Dennis’ puzzle only alluded to in the other works. Either way, this hour spent with Dennis Elkins is unlikely to change the world, but it’ll reassure that it really doesn't matter if you’re ‘normal’ or not.