Patrick Burns delivers a fabulous tale of a troubled past

Patrick Burns in his one man show ‘From Foster Care to Fabulous.’
Photo: Jessie Dobrzynski

From Foster Care to Fabulous
Who Redhouse Arts Center
Where 201 S. West St. Syracuse
When Through Nov. 17
Tickets $20 regular; $15 members
Review by Josh Austin

Still cradling his hamper and longing for penguins, one skinny jean-wearing, flamboyant spitfire has overcome a tough childhood—albeit still reminiscing, and touting a vague rendition of his nine-year-old self.

Patrick Burns’ one-man show that he wrote and stars in, From Foster Care to Fabulous, is a dizzying true account of his depressing childhood. Burns, who just finished as the assistant conductor for the second national tour of Spamalot, recently appeared in a stage reading of Dustin Lance Black’s 8. His show has performed in New York and Los Angeles.

From the age of 14 until 17, Burns lived in four foster homes, each robbing him of a piece of his youth. With drug addicted, absent parents and a brother struggling in the slums of his hometown in Oakland, Calif., Burns’ tale is a somewhat horrifying retelling of his tumultuous upbringing. Yet, what’s even more horrifying is that it’s funny.

Ranging from delicate, giddy showtunes to explicit rap, this show is not meant to warm the soul; although, it does. It’s not meant for the audience to leave all smiles; although, they did. It’s hard to say exactly what Burns does that keeps this dismal topic so flowery and light. Well, maybe it’s not. The title, after all, contains the word “fabulous.”

It’s easy to feel pity as the actor talks about what has happened to him in foster homes, from being used to being forced to grow up incredibly fast. It’s uncomfortable to hear him repeat how he had fingers shoved in his mouth and snot spit onto him. And, although he is serious at times, his attitude recants his undesirable past.

Burns’ show is the ever present tale of overcoming. Overcoming obstacles. Overcoming yourself. Overcoming, and then, achieving.

Patrick Burns reminiscing about his childhood.
Photo: Jessie Dobrzynski

What makes Burns stand out, aside from his taking life in stride and his incredible intuition to simply roll with the punches, is that he never lost his sense of youth. His presence is playful and energetic, the 14-year-old man that he was has given into the mature kid he is now. The bad is soothed away as he impersonates these outlandish foster parents that have come and quickly—though never forgotten—gone out of his life.

The stage is bare with nothing but a piano, a chair and two trunks with a lamp atop. It’s what he carries with him that matters: letters from his father while in jail and his stark white hamper, his prized possession holding his life.

Although what Burns has overcome is palpable, the good baggage seems left behind. Only with brief lines does the audience hear about his driver’s license, his acceptance (full ride) to UC Irvine, where he studied theater, or a big issue: his homosexuality. Yet, it’s okay. The objective of the show isn’t to showcase his struggle as a gay man and it’s not to portray all the good events—they kind of lead up to this moment.

With him dreaming of penguins and dragging along his hamper.

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