BASIC TRAINING written and performed by Kahlil Ashanti (Diesel Playhouse, 56 Blue Jays Way). To July 14. $20. See Continuing, page 82. 416-971-5656. Rating: NN Rating: NN
Khalil Ashanti's solo show, Basic Training, has done well on the Fringe circuit, which isn't a surprise. Ashanti's a charismatic performer with a gift for rapid character changes. It's a shame that this piece - about his rise through the ranks of the Tops In Blue, a prestigious group of military entertainers - feels contrived.
Ashanti grew up in an unhappy home, and the day he left for the U.S. Air Force he discovered that the brutal man who raised him wasn't his real dad. (Who is his dad? Gee, guess how the show will end?)
Once he starts his basic training, he encounters a sadistic drill sergeant and a couple of colourful grunts and soon hooks up with the Tops, a sort of Fame for soldiers.
It's here he discovers his gift for stand-up comedy.
Ashanti's best impressions are of his Tops colleagues, who include a swishy (but proud) singer and a deliriously bug-eyed host.
Unfortunately, his own stand-up material isn't very strong, which doesn't speak well for the Tops judges.
As a writer, Ashanti is limited. A tragicomic sequence in Turkey has dramatic heft, but a scene about making a girl with cancer laugh is maudlin.
His material never cuts close to the bone. It's all superficial stuff. His bio notes tell us he grew up in Germany, Japan, Texas and Iowa.
Where's that in the show? How did that affect him?
And where are stories about the soldiers he's performing for? How does he feel about the war? These dramatic basics are MIA.