Review: ‘Backstage in Biscuit Land’ by Jess Thom at SFIAF (*****)

by Charles Kruger

Biscuit! I love cats! Have you helped a sailor f**k a goat?

Each of the statements above are random tics produced by Jess Thom, the lady with Tourettes Syndrome and founder of Touretteshero.

Jess Thom is nobody’s victim. A few years ago, she wanted to attend a theatrical performance. Knowing that her Tourettes symptoms could be a distraction in the theatre, she contacted the producers and asked if she would be welcome to attend if she purchased a ticket. Assured that all would be well, she arrived at the theatre only to be asked to watch the performance isolated from everybody else in an offstage sound booth.

Nobody would be surprised if she had decided that attending theatre was not for her. But, considering a friend’s advice that it would be a terrible waste not to capitalize on the creativity of her verbal tics, she responded by creating her own educational organization (Touretteshero) and a singular theatre piece: ‘Backstage in Biscuit Land.’ The title refers to her most ubiquitous verbal tic: Biscuit!

‘Backstage in Biscuit Land’ is unlike anything you have ever seen, or are ever likely to see, in the theatre. The set of  ‘biscuit land’ is among the first things to be noticed: it is random, like the unexpectedly funny, filthy, bizarre, and oddly insightful verbal tics that explode continuously from the star. There is a portrait of Mother Teresa, various inflatable dolls, puppets, an anvil, and more.

During the course of an hour’s performance, Thom might say anything. But what comes out of her is not improvisation, but irrepressible random verbal tics produced by her Tourettes. “Have you helped a sailor f**k a goat” is fairly typical. At the start of the show, Thom invites the audience to “please laugh” if she says something funny or shocking. She is quite often shocked herself.

 

Jess Thom delivers a Ted Talk about her experiences.

 

Her performing partners, Jess Mabel Jones and musician Matthew Pourtney, help to keep things on track and stand by in case Thom has a “Tourettes seizure” which could happen at any time and would require an emergency response. Jess Mabel Jones is a wonderful performer in her own right, and is never upstaged by Ms. Thom — a fact that, in itself, deserves at least an Olivier award or a Tony.

Thom’s performance is educational, wildly funny, charismatic, touching, astounding, inspiring, fitful, bizarre, outrageous, and I don’t know what all else.

And you might get to see random audience members take to the stage to enthusiastically sing a song inspired by one of her bizarre verbal tics: “I’m having sex with the animals again, and they like it hard in the face.” (I very much hope no one was taking video the night I attended.)

This show gives a new and wonderful meaning to “let it all hang out.”

Go. You’ll be glad you did.

“Backstage in Biscuit Land” plays a final performance at the San Francisco International Arts Festival on Sunday, June 5th, at 7 p.m. For further information, click here

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Rating: *****
(For an explanation of TheatreStorm’s rating scale, click here.)
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“Backstage in Biscuit Land,” co-created by Jess Thom, Jess Mabel Jones, and Matthew Pountney. Produced by Jolie Booth and Matthew Pountney for the San Francisco International Arts Festival. Designed by Poppy Harris.

Performed by Jess Thom, Jess Mabel Jones, and Matthew Pountney.

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