Guy Masterson holds dual citizenship in both this country and the United Kingdom, and his performances are an intriguing mix of American and British sensibilities.
To grossly over-simplify, he writes like a Brit and performs like a Yank. That unique mating of the cerebral and the physical makes Masterson ideal to perform American Poodle, a pairing of two short satirical solo plays that contrasts a British view of American history with an arrogant American view of contemporary England.
Masterson performed the show Friday night at Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre, Kansas City as part of "British Invasion 2011."
Masterson wrote Snowball, the first half of the piece, in which a Brit offers his view of the colonization of North America and the founding of this country. Masterson weaves together complex history with caustic humor that seeks to explode some of our favorite myths the founding of the country.
Masterson's performances are volatile, as though he'll burst out of his skin at any moment. He delivers his monologues the aggressive rapidity an anti-aircraft gun. The upside is that there are no dead spots. Every moment counts as Masterson pulls you along at a breakneck pace. The downside is your inability to fully absorb the information he throws at you.
The second half of the piece is Splayfoot by Brian Parks, in which an American businessman arrives in London on his first trip to the UK. As he explores the city he never really understands what he's actually seeing because everything is filtered through his chauvinistic lens. One of the funniest segments considers the contrast between British shoppers and their American counterparts in terms of escalator etiquette. American backsides receive close attention. (Robert Trussell - Kansas City Star - 15/12/11)
ADELAIDE FRINGE FESTIVAL 2008
American Poodle is an elegantly crafted, brilliantly acted two-part play that is just a few brush strokes short of being a masterpiece. Guy Masterson is extraordinary, creating characters without visibly moving a muscle, as he takes an irreverent look at the historical British/US "special relationship" through a powerfully eccentric lens.
The play sparkles with witty self-awareness. It feels positively Greek or even Freudian in its lament about fate and consequences. What makes the two pieces memorable is the precision of their tone, and the finely calibrated combination of bitterness, humour, factual information and warmth. Of course Masterson's acting is tremendous - who would expect anything less? With strong, evocative storytelling, and a sensibility that perfectly matches the script, it's easy to get caught in Masterson's grip.
In part one, a British bulldog delivers some John Bull about the founding, colonisation and ultimate loss of the American colonies to the treacherous, ungrateful colonists. During the second act, an American businessman visits London, where everyone is either a Reeve or a Franklin. He marvels at everything from Ye Olde Worlde Heathrow Airport to black cabs looking like hearses for midgets and how the British politely use escalators.
American Poodle is full of surprises and unfolds with consummate ease. This all makes for a deeply entertaining experience that engages the mind as well as the funny bone. (Stephen Davenport - Adelaide Independent Weekly 08/03/08)
Borne of desperation when prepping for the Edinburgh Fringe one year (the programme is really worth a read), American Poodle (the term coming from a less-than-affectionate nickname for the departed Tony Blair) is a pair of short plays dealing with two perspectives of the American Revolution.
The first piece, Snowball, is a fact-heavy and deeply historical view on the British perspective towards the American colonies. From discovery, through settlement, through to the Revolution itself (including some gloriously lyrical descriptions around the Boston Tea Party), this Anglo-centric performance is played in Guy Masterson's typical style: roaming the length and breadth of the stage, refined sweeping movements, sudden jumps for impact. It's a great bit of work; educational, even.
The second piece, Splayfoot, was penned by an American for the US viewpoint on Britain. It's more contrived and, in contrast to the earlier British FactFest, very story driven: an American in London to strike a deal. Masterson is less convincing here as an American but, as it's mainly played for laughs, it doesn't really matter all that much; it's most definitely the weaker of the two pieces, but is by no means a flat conclusion.
Yes, it's a funny bit of work - but the (future President) John Adams quote regarding standing armies stands out as a distinctly contemporary message. No, really, it stands out; almost (but not quite) smug in its "look at me"-ness. But that's fair enough; sometimes, for all those looking only to the future, a slap is needed to remind them of the past.
(And, again, I'm just going to mention how utterly impressed I am that Masterson pulled off great performances so soon after his personal tragedies. That's professionalism for you' says I, who'll painfully take a day off work after stubbing my toe.) Festival Freak 29/01/08
When Guy Masterson takes you on a journey, strap yourself in as it's a full-throttle ride! In his latest Fringe offering, written by himself and Brian Parks, the master story-teller ducks and weaves through the pivotal events that led to the American War of Independence.
Masterson explores the basis of America's ``freedom at all costs'' world view with nothing but an arsenal of energetic monologue and a sharp edged wit. In the first of two parts, we travel with the pioneering Anglo-American settlers as they rebel against the demands of their far away motherland and struggle for their freedom.
Fast forward past civil war, international diplomatic situations, the mass genocide of countless native Americans and one giant tea party, and we are presented with a wide-eyed account of London through the eyes of an American business man. Full of hilarious observations, Masterson delivers a rapid-fire account about the enduring pleasantries of the English, while proving that not everything is as it seems. As with previous Fringe shows by Masterson, you're guaranteed engaging, physically vibrant theatre that shouldn't be missed. In short: Turbo-charged history. Rosetta Mastrantone (Adelaide Advertiser 04/03/08)
"Welsh actor/director Guy Masterson presents an intriguing look at the love/hate relationship between the American and British colonies in their early days. Masterson skilfully and energetically plays the role of both Briton and American in a two-part show, hardly missing a beat with quotes, dates and the odd bit of humour thrown in. While this show should appeal to the history buffs and threatreheads there's just one tip for Guy - he'll need a big stock of T-shirts over the next few weeks. By the end of act one the poor bugger was dripping in perspiration from racing around the stage and climbing on and over chairs and a table. But it's a good show, no sweat." Gordon Armstrong (Adelaide Messenger 27/02/08)
This is actually two extremely funny trans-Atlantic pieces; the first, Snowball, looking at the discovery, settlement and independence of America, from a uniquely British standpoint, the second, Splayfoot, presenting a not too bright American relating his day in England for a secret, shady business meeting, from his arrival at the airport to the transaction. This is typical of Guy Masterson's work; minimal props and set with the emphasis placed firmly on the text and the actor. It takes an actor of considerable ability to handle this type of performance and Masterson fits the bill. You'll be sorry if you miss this! Barry Lenny (Ripitup Magazine 24/02/08)
"Australians tend to forget that the rivalry between the UK and the US goes back a very long way. American Poodle captures it beautifully. Guy Masterson shows how the English colonised North America and then proceeded to insult its colonials with English arrogance until the Americans declared independence. He does so in a bewildering array of accents and points of view like a history lesson on speed. The second part of this monologue is written by New Yorker Brian Parks and is a hilarious account of a contemporary God Save American on a business trip to London, dripping with Mark Twain style irony as he discovers Ye Olde England at Heathrow Airport." (Adelaide Advertiser 24/02/08)
'American Poodle' unravels in two parts as it displays the relationship between the British superpower of past centuries and the current superpower United States. In this one-man power play, performed and written by Guy Masterson, we begin with a fascinating and descriptive account of American colonisation and invasion. Blow by blow, Masterson breaks down some common and naïve understandings of the history we've inherited from biased history books and white supremacy. Hidden truths of British stupidity and biological race-cleansing are as engaging as they are factual. Masterson then compares the nations from the perspective of an American on a business trip to London. In a highlight of the performance, he describes the difference between British and Americans in the way they use escalators.
It is incredibly witty but amidst the humour, the reality is not lost in the passionate and dynamic performance. 'American Poodle' delivers what is sometimes a cynical look at the Brits and Yanks, but for all the right reasons. But American arrogance and British leadership are just two ideas that get a pounding. It's the most entertaining history lesson you'll get this year!" Andy Ahrens (Adelaide Theatre Guide 24/02/08)
"Guy Masterson, in a very amusing double bill, Snowball and Splayfoot, explores the imperialist origins of the US. Australians can ruefully relate to several strong threads that weave through both plays. One is the Republican theme, first encountered via the colony's growing resistance to British taxes (via an unforgettable George III) and re-visited in the second play as the 'American in London' reflects on the ease of overthrowing the current monarch, who after all is only 5'4". Without wishing to give away the ending of the play, the irony is that America's persists with a love affair for the monarchy. A more sinister theme, explored powerfully in the first play through the reflections of Captain Preston (in charge of British troops in Boston) is that of the spin put on 'accidentally' killing the locals after a stick throwing incident (or was it a snowball?) Palestine/Iraq anyone? Intelligent laughs: don't miss it." (Helen Fraser - Adelaide Theatre Review - 23/02/08)
As refreshing as a cold shower!
This one always had the pedigree to be something special and is likely to prove one of the most professional as well as funniest shows on the Fringe.
American Poodle consists of two complementary monologues delivered by Edinburgh regulars that together form a jaundiced view of the relationship between the United Kingdom and the United States of America. Guy Masterson's Snowball is a partial and anachronistic half-hour American history lesson rendered by Guy Masterson in a series of different personae. He starts off by pointing out in his native Welsh tones that three centuries before Christopher Columbus bumped into America, the Welsh colonised Alabama. Moving into bullying estuarine, Masterson reminds us of forgotten moments in the history of the colony finally getting to 1776. At that point, he becomes a posh English naval captain, indicted for killing a few locals who is only saved by the advocational skills of John Adams, a future president. Before the end of a brisk monologue, a few more swipes are taken at the nation that the first George W(ashington) took away from us and another now rules, though only as a result of some dodgy voting practices in Florida! This is great stuff, delivered in a relaxed style that soon wins over the audience.
Brian Parks is best known to British audiences for his recklessly fast political satire Americana Absurdum that featured David Calvitto under the direction of John Clancy. The same team has re-formed with similarly devastating effect to offer us Splayfoot; the story of a first-time American tourist to London. The style is typical of Clancy. It gives Calvitto the impression of a toy wound up to its full extent so that it rushes madly around a room hitting out at numerous targets. This guy could easily be an alien from outer space, having apparently learned about England from a literary resource that seems to concentrate on Chaucer, Shakespeare, Dickens and their ilk with little newer than the Nineteenth Century. This allows Parks plenty of scope for quirkily hilarious observation of the foibles of the country that gave up his own so long ago.
If you want to know why Americans are obese and how poodles have attained their current status then go to the Assembly Rooms. You will also discover a great deal about the history of our "special relationship" and why Brits and Yanks love each other quite so much. In fact, American Poodle is as refreshing as a brisk cold shower and even in Edinburgh, with 1,000 shows to pick from, that is a great rarity. Philip Fisher (British Theatre Guide 11/08/07)
Guy Masterson, writer and performer of Snowball, presents the first of a double bill investigating the roots of Britain and America's increasingly suspect "special relationship". As Masterson moves through history, from pre-Columbus times to the American Declaration Of Independence, from Dubyas Washington to Bush Jnr, the sheer cack-handed stupidity of how we got here is served up via a series of amusingly pop-eyed observations.
Meanwhile, from the other side of the pond comes Splayfoot, Brian Parks's scatalogically manic monologue performed by the ever brilliant David Calvitto. He plays an American businessman in thrall of a London seen through his alien's eyes, and still stuck in the historical mud.
As he discovers England, "Where capitalism was invented before America perfected it" as he puts it, Calvitto becomes a living pop-up history book of cliched presumption concerning us quaint l'il Brits.
This is clever if throwaway stuff, though worth it for its underlying tone of anti flag-waving, which makes a mockery of the differences between apple pie and stiff-upper-lipped sensibilities. And if you're wondering who's dumber, you are probably the type who would try to buy London Bridge. Neil Cooper (The Herald 20/08/07)
There is no doubt that Guy Masterson has juice. He has made the Assembly his home for the past ten or so years. And - he has earned it! Masterson is a triple threat; actor, director, writer. As a producer, he is wicked! (Okay, that's four.) His productions may not always sail but he never fails.
He more than proves his worth with American Poodle, two one-act plays on the state of the Anglo/American relationships. In Snowball, written and performed by Masterson, he gives us the English everyman's take on how the English lost America. Masterson uses chronology to get from beginning to end. It's quite a stinging history lesson. Masterson moves effortlessly from character to character; the English King George jumping on the furniture and farting versus the tepid George W the First (that's George Washington) and the cronies who launched America in spite of themselves. He's all feathers and fairy dust between these mammoth decision makers of history. (Breathe, Guy!) Very funny stuff, this. He consumes the stage and his topic with relish, lashing out at us 'til we're bloody. The direction by Peter McNally is light and Masterson wears it well. We love the characters as we swallow the bitter pill of Masterson's dead-on take of the botch-up. Mastery.
Masterson's Snowball is hard to follow. But Splayfoot by Brian Parks works as well. The American counterpart is a businessman, the ugly American in its most charming if numb form, coming to the UK on a mission to buy some more good ol' English history to add to take back to the collection. We get a good dose of how quaint the dull Americans find their distant relatives. The script jumps back and forth between the travels of this American and the insights of his encounters, leaving the security of the airport to be launched by taxi through the streets of London to the much anticipated business meeting. Veteran performer David Calvitto works hard at making the material fluid and facile. Catherine Lamm (British Theatre Guide 18/08/07)
This is truly "a play of two pairts" as they once said in Scotland. Guy Masterson leads off the first part with Snowball as historic commentator. He gives us a verbal history of English empirical philosophy delivered in the style of football parlance, embroidered by wonderful historic character cameos. Mostly, they are Englishmen who featured in the development or the destruction of the American colonies, as well as those who were responsible for creating its independence from the English crown. David Calvitto in Splayfoot is superb as the stereo-typed American who relates the development of the philosophy of the American, post revolution to the present day. Wonderful cross references from history with contemporary USA, like George Washington being George W. In Splayfoot we see all that is naive and annoying about our American cousins. In Snowball we see all that was rank about imperialism. Excellently translated by both players, this an excellent piece of work both in its writing and production with a very apt conclusion. John Ritchie (Edinburghguide.com 15/08/07)
Insightful, entertaining and incredibly warped!
Guy Masterson and David Calvitto present two takes on the 'Special Relationship' from both sides of the Atlantic. Masterson flips seamlessly between numerous roles to recreate the founding of the USA, from discovery (Alabama is a Welsh word, by the way - who knew?) to independence and beyond - a history lesson with a British sardonic twist. Calvitto picks up the tale as an American businessman visiting London for the first time, a place filled with poets, actors and chimney sweeps. Enthralled by everything he sees, his cheerfully naive descriptions make for brilliant - if slightly disturbing - comedy. Insightful, entertaining and incredibly warped - if this is how each side views the other it's a wonder the 'relationship' has lasted so long. (Three Weeks 08/08/07)
American Poodle it's actually two shows for the price of one.
In the 1700 the relationship between America and Britain began and with one thing and another the relationship has changed and developed not always for the better.
Snowball the first part of American Poodle is written and performed by Guy Masterson and directed in the UK by Peter McNally. Several characters take us through the history of the Americas from a European point of view. Guy as always an expert in guiding his audiences through the tales he is presenting. His ability to capture us in the first few minutes always amazes yet delights me. In this section both his literary and performance talents are displayed to their best.
Splayfoot by Brian Parks performed by David Calvitto directed by John Clancy in the USA. Brings an American, with old world expectations, in to modern London. I have seen David Calvitto in previous plays although he is not as well known to me as Guy. His story telling and performance is as compelling.
Both parts of this unique experience met in Edinburgh for the first time for the Fringe and for me the Experiment worked extremely well. We have the advantage of being presented with two superb performers and a company who's high standards are legendary to Edinburgh Fringe Festival goers. This is still in a process of development and I would love to get back to see it towards the end of the run to be able to make a comparison. (one4review.com - 07/08/07)
American Poodle is a pairing of two short pieces, one looking at American history through British eyes, the other at Britain as perceived by a naive American. Snowball, written and performed by Guy Masterson, is a monologue, concerning, mostly, the American War of Independence. A lot of it is very funny (I particularly enjoyed the early passages from the Welsh perspective of Prince Madoc) Much goes over a lot of familiar ground but with a lot of pertinent modern parallels. The energy and conviction of the performance is not in doubt. Splayfoot written by Brian Parks, directed by John Clancy and performed by David Calvitto, this extremely funny piece takes the American misunderstanding of British Heritage to sublimely absurd heights. Almost nothing that this blissfully ignorant businessman experiences is as he sees it. His grasp of English history, literature, politics and culture is almost non-existent. There's a wonderfully inappropriate poem he recites to what he perceives to be a Dickensian waif. The best passage is actually about America, in particular the world-paralysing effects of American backsides. (Victor Hallett - Onstagescotland.com)