The Austin Chronicle

Hyde Park Theatre's Hot Dogs at the Eiffel Tower

Maggie Gallant relates her search for her birth parents with slow-burn storytelling that captivates with its blend of cheekiness and honesty

Reviewed by Trey Gutierrez, September 13, 2019, Arts

In 2006, Chronicle Arts Editor Robert Faires wrote that, in Austin, one-person theatrical vehicles seem to "come in waves,'' (with the strongest occurring toward summer's end). It's an apt observation that remains true 13 years on. For me, riding 2019's solo-show wave meant experiencing a whirlwind of spirited, women-driven performances. Having already reviewed Holland Taylor's impactful Ann Richards biography Ann and Laura de la Fuente's sketch-comedy extravaganza Liz Behan: One Woman at Dusk, it seemed fitting to make it a trilogy with British expat Maggie Gallant's lively one-woman show Hot Dogs at the Eiffel Tower.

An unconventional autobiography, the piece chronicles its creator's true-life discovery of being adopted as an infant and her subsequent search for her birth parents. Hot Dogs started as a 25-minute one-act that premiered at the 2006 FronteraFest Short Fringe and focused on the comedian reconnecting with her birth mother. Today, with the benefit of a decade-plus hindsight and new developments in her search, Gallant centers her hourlong revival on the surprising discovery of her French birth father, or "French Papa," and his true identity.

Onstage, Gallant relives her formative years with the dry wit and relatable irreverence of a teenage skaz protagonist. Her many lived experiences ultimately form a captivating whole, one fraught with enough twists and turns that, were actual diary entries, letters, and photographs not projected onto the stage's back screen, one might assume this tale was a flight of narrative fancy.

While distinctly personal, Hot Dogs is anchored by universal themes of curiosity and hope that evoke the simple yet powerful human desire to belong. Under the direction of Hyde Park Theatre Artistic Director Ken Webster, the tale feels well adapted to Hyde Park's intimate stage, allowing Gallant's brand of slow-burn storytelling to ferment into a balanced blend of cheekiness and honesty.

Gallant's dramatic strength (which Webster milks for all it's worth) is her unyielding eye for life's silver lining, something which prevents the show's darker moments from permeating the invisible, 10-foot radius of comedic energy that seems to surround Gallant at all times – even when she's offstage. (Chatting with her after the show felt less like a conversation and more like a continuation of the presentation; her performance style is just that true-to-life.)

Interestingly enough, the show's main dramatic revelation – Gallant learning her birth father's identity (which I won't spoil here) – in reality, occurred some years after Hot Dogs' FronteraFest premiere. Though her quest to find "French Papa" ends with a certain disappointment, one can only appreciate the novelty of a play dynamic enough to change alongside its performer's formative life-moments – especially when that performer is as affable as Gallant.

This summer's wave of solo shows, for me, ends with a narrative seemingly destined to carry on, as Gallant's story isn't over yet. Based on our post-show conversation, her trek toward self-discovery is an ongoing process. Though her continuing quest might not yield a second rewrite, Gallant's ability to synthesize and convey meaningful takeaways from her unique lot in life makes this show worth engaging. Hot Dogs at the Eiffel Tower's beauty lies in its ability to stand tall as its own self- contained package, one that brings truth to the adage: "It's not about the destination, but the journey" (or in this case, the individual our hero became along the way).

Hot Dogs at the Eiffel Tower

Hyde Park Theatre, 511 W. 43rd, 512/479-7529
Through Oct. 5
Running time: 1 hr.

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