At Fringe, ‘How to be a Terrorist’ explores Scouting

As a title, “How to Be a Terrorist” is the Fringe equivalent of click bait. Monologist Jimmy Grzelak of Southwick, Mass., newly graduated from Williams College, knows just how to pique the curiosity of a reviewer sorting through the masses of unknown quantities that make up a festival like Capital Fringe.

So when Grzelak materializes in Fort Fringe’s Bedroom in his Boy Scout uniform, dumps a pile of logs and kindling onto the stage and announces he’s going to provide a lesson in how to build a fire, you have to wonder if you have been just a little bit snookered.

Well, now, snookering happens to be one of the hallmarks of Fringe. And in point of fact, terrorism does play a tangential role in the goofily appealing Grzelak’s roundabout monologue, which finds ironic connectivity in the biography of Scouting’s eccentric 19th-century British founder, Robert Baden-Powell, Grzelak’s account of his own sometimes punishing experience as a Scout and the tweeted ramblings of accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

The piece, which clocks in at under an hour, could stand a bit more attention to transitions. Grzelak has not yet mastered the tricky art of determining how much information an audience requires for it to follow him all the way down the narrative trail. You get the sense he’s not positive how far to go with it, either, because the ending is unsatisfyingly abrupt.

But Grzelak displays a winningly offbeat imagination, and his show latches onto an intriguing thread when it takes note of Baden-Powell’s idiosyncratic personality. (Apparently, he loved to dress up and perform.) Slyly, Grzelak introduces a suggestion of homoeroticism, a notion that has contemporary resonance in the organization’s opposition to openly gay Boy Scouts, a resistance that only recently has begun to weaken.


The Capital Fringe Festival performance of “How to be a terrorist” by Jimmy Grzelak. (Courtesy Jimmy Grzelak)

How to Be a Terrorist

by Jimmy Grzelak. 55 minutes. Through July 20 at Capital Fringe Festival. Visit www.capfringe.org.

Peter Marks joined the Washington Post as its chief theater critic in 2002. Prior to that he worked for nine years at the New York Times, on the culture, metropolitan and national desks, and spent about four years as its off-Broadway drama critic.
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