Maria Shehata makes interesting life decisions. I like that about her – sensible life decisions don’t make good shows. Wisdomless is essentially an hour-long therapy session, albeit one in which the therapists are called "audience" and sit on clammy plastic chairs in the dark, chortling unprofessionally at the stories their patient spouts.
Fate has furnished Shehata with a series of unlucky geographical movements, to the sorts of places that everybody thinks they want to go but actually don’t. This show – the Egyptian-American comic’s first feature-length outing – is an origins story that morphs into a right-now story, ricocheting from New York to Los Angeles, through the treacherous love-lined labyrinth of Skype romance to big, British, vomity London. I can’t help but feel Shehata would benefit from a stint at Tebay service station, ideally with her credit card safely out of reach, to help get her breath back and gain some perspective.
This is a story about love (cue ahhs, although not from the stuffy British audience who appreciate that love is dead) and other messes, interweaved with vignettes from Shehata’s life. It eventually coalesces into a brilliantly vivid portrait of the person standing on stage: born in the US to an Egyptian family with broadly Egyptian expectations, Maria Shehata has license to gently rib each of the cultures of which she’s been a part. Okay, there are a couple of terrorist jokes, but I’ll forgive.
There are also some great commentaries about living in the mannequin zoo of Los Angeles, nuns, and how you’re allowed to shout at people when you’re on your walk of shame. The major silent party in this show is Shehata’s other half, who, in contrast to Maria, enjoys self-restraint and tidiness. I’m on his side, to be honest.
At times it’s difficult to get behind the first-world problems on display here, though luckily our leading lady distracts us by being quite likeable in real life. The story is the star of this show, particularly as the plot begins to cohere. It does take a little while to get going, and some of the more one-liner-heavy portions of the show can feel a little slow and sparse, but it all comes together nicely, a messy but comfy comedy patchwork quilt. By the end we’re all in the same room, in the here and now, and it works. And yes, it’s funny.
This is a complete show about a work in progress: the real-life story of two people being confused about things. I’m left genuinely wanting to know what happens next. Maria spends an hour making you like her, so I want everything to be fine… but I also know that if it isn’t, there will be much more juicy material for our next therapy session. What a conundrum.
Wisdomless is a heartfelt and acerbic hour of on-the-nose comedy storytelling.