Never Own Anything You Have to Paint or Feed
Capital Critics Circle
Ottawa Fringe 2014. Never Own Anything You Have to Paint or Feed.
Reviewed by Alvina Ruprecht
Howard Petrick is not a trained actor but he is a living piece of history, an honest to goodness hippy /hobo from San Francisco and Minneapolis, who comes out of the left wing labour movement and is transformed into an anti Viet-nam War activist in 1960’s. No set (a chair and some lights) no costume, no props, no esthetic theatrical set up, just Petrick in all his earnest feeling, vast experience as a speaker for the union movement with all his stories, which pour out of his mind non stop for an hour. He rode the rails, he hopped the freight cars, he looked for work throughout the US and ended up with a vivid story of a monstrous wrestling match which tops of all his tales, all of which are all based on real experience. His stories also paint a gallery of characters with colourful names, itinerant men who created a sub culture of out of work men, forced to move around to find a job. Some reach the point where this kind of moving about becomes a style of life that they can’t or don’t want to change. It’s a fascinating portrait of the U.S. in the 1960s and all the more interesting because it is based on authentic experience.
This show is a prequel to his earlier show Breaking Rank, where he tells us how he was drafted into the American army and continued protesting even when he was a soldier in Viet-nam.
Never Own anything you have to paint or feed
Written and performed by Howard Petrick
Plays at Studio Leonard Beaulne
Arts. Culture. Ottawa. Puns.
Never Own Anything You Have to Paint or Feed
Written by Lisa Levesque on Saturday June 21st, 2014
Review by Lisa Levesque
Howard Petrick starts off his one-man show singing a Wobblies version of an old hymn, talking about his young life as a working man, and wearing denim on denim. But, what should seem preachy never does. Instead, Never Own Anything You Have to Paint or Feed is the work of an enthralling storyteller, one that uses humour to talk how human decency can make help sense of the working man’s life.
While the narrative isn’t always straightforward, it’s easy to just fall into the continuous ebb of the story. Never Own Anything You Have to Paint or Feed brings together two groups of railroad riding men: the 1960’s draft dodgers, broke 19 year olds who are looking for work and a Bob Dylan record or two, and the old timers, men who might have ridden in the dirty thirties and are still in ill-repute. While it takes awhile to get going, this story meanders though interesting side tales and occasionally wanders into the absurd. The refrain, though, is always those old Wobblies hymns, and they keep asking the audience what it means to labour for a living.
Never Own Anything You Have to Paint or Feed describes arcane worlds as more than what they seem. The night-shift at the train yard, the secret life of a bar-fly, and the difference between hobos, tramps, and bums, for starters. These provide for easy and interesting humour that hides a darker, more socially conscious side. Tricking the railroad authorities by getting a roommate to take your physical is a funny idea; until you realize that the roommate is colourblind and that you’re getting fired for having a disability yet again. Iterant workers, deadbeats, riding the rails, and the circus; from the way the story is told it all seems heartwarming, even if we know this isn’t really the case.
If you’re looking an individual perspective on larger social issues and poverty that isn’t impersonal, Never Own Anything You Have to Paint or Feed is a story worth hearing.
The New Ottawa Critics
Review: Never Own Anything You Have to Paint or Feed.
Never Own Anything You Have to Paint or Feed, beyond being an outstanding title, brings to life the vivid characters who inhabit the wrong side of the tracks in the American West of 1965 through the capable story-telling of Howard Petrick.
The show kicks off with Petrick singing a song by Joe Hill, a song writer from a generation before the show’s setting, who created anthems of the underclass that reflect well on the humans that Petrick’s character, Howard, encounters. This is the first among a series frequent connections drawn between the labour rights movement and Howard’s story, which grow tenuous if you consider that their only relationship in the story is that the movement, Hill, and these people both function on the margins of society. The songs and union-movement facts certainly put the story in context, but beyond their thematic relevance, they aren’t particularly helpful to Howard’s retelling and detracted from the tale’s coherence.
Nevertheless, Petrick’s story is engaging, and he does an excellent job depicting the often-hilarious quirks of its characters through great physical and vocal work. I particularly liked Howard’s travelling mate, a very strange man devoted to doing as little as possible.
There is nothing rigid or forced in the transitions between these characters, even during dialogue, which is an impressive achievement, especially given the myriad distinct voices that contribute to the story. These unique slices of humans in time and place are wonderful to watch, and a great history lesson in themselves
Perhaps Petrick could consider talking about the union movements of Joe Hill’s generation through the guise of these characters more often, rather than presenting them as bits of narrative outside the moment of the story. This works very well on the occasion we learn about the labour “fink” around the hobo-jungle soup pot, and would give even greater voice to those marginalized people that never have their stories told. This would further enhance a theme which already forms a key part of Petrick’s production. I may feel this way because I occasionally find that Howard’s responses were a bit stilted in comparison with the rich lines delivered by the other characters, and I wished for a more interesting Howard to come through.
Towards the show’s end Petrick seemed to tire slightly, which resulted in some dropped lines around the show’s emotional climax. This detracted a bit from the performance, but it was an 11 o’clock show, and it’s especially hard to blame the man when he’s just convincingly mimed a wrestling victory against a 300-pound giant. I thought this show was charming, and worth the visit to Studio Léonard-Beaulne.
NEVER OWN ANYTHING YOU HAVE TO PAINT OR FEED
By Howard Petrick – San Francisco, USA
Solo storytelling under hot lights is a tough gig, and Howard Petrick is fairly new to theatre, coming in quite late in life, but that might actually give him an advantage. He may not be slick, polished, or enrapturing, but when Petrick recounts his tales of tough life survival by hoboes, draft dodgers, activists, alcoholics and freight train hoppers, it rings true. Skid row comes to life when presented by someone who was actually there, and Petrick’s stories linger long after the curtain closes.
Howard Petrick paints an evocative and affectionate portrait of these rough-and-tumble men, train-hopping across America in search of work and adventure.
For San Francisco storyteller Howard Petrick, 1965 was the summer that changed his life.
Working the graveyard shift at a Minneapolis railway, he meets all kinds of hobos, tramps, and outcasts. Then he starts hopping the trains himself, and that’s when the real adventure begins.
You’re never quite sure where the true stories end and the tall tales begin, as Petrick recounts the exploits of guys like Sammy the Sloth and White Pine Shorty. Petrick paints such an evocative and affectionate portrait of these rough-and-tumble men, train-hopping across America in search of work and adventure, that it doesn’t really matter. By the end, we start to see them as Petrick does, not as drunks and dropouts but as a “living history of survival in our country.”
As a writer, Petrick has an ear for authentic dialogue. As a performer he’s able to inhabit multiple characters with the subtlest of gestures. He also has great comedic chops – just wait for his story of how he managed to win a wrestling match with a guy twice his size.
This is a train ride well worth hopping aboard.– Sara Tate, CBC
When you keep an open mind, you never know what might drop in.
San Francisco storyteller Howard Petrick (Breaking Rank!, 2012) regales his audience with nuggets he picked up from hobos, union men and determinedly non-working stiffs as a young man trying to avoid the Vietnam draft.
Some tales are funny, some are poignant and a few are so tall they block out the sun.
But as antiwar activist Petrick found, even the most grizzled veterans of wars, strikes and hard knocks have something of value to impart. And given an easy conservational spin in this one-man show, they’re worth a listen.
— Pat St. Germain, Winnipeg Frees Press
Last year, Howard Petrick’s Breaking Rank described how the Draft Board and the Army managed to create a social activist. Now, Never Own Anything You Have to Paint or Feed has a solid start and room to grow. Howard revisits his 19-year-old self, his friends, and his job inspecting freight trains at night. From there, he may branch into several different places to explore.
It may be the cast-off hobos (“itinerant workers”) of the freight yards, hoping for a ride to the next temporary employment or telling tall tales. It might be a visit to the nearby bar where the lowly and lonely gathered. Wherever Howard goes, it will be with an insightful eye for detail and a novelist’s ability to place an image in your mind. It isn’t a story for children, but it is a story for the mind to study and ponder.
There are many finely-drawn characters, from a work-avoiding friend who extorts money with a misshapen animal balloon to knights of the road, to Howard himself, a young man who prefers being around the rejects of society to being alone.
There is union history, in-self-conscious singing, and light cast on today’s society with the lens of the past.
– Terrance Mc Arthur, KINGS RIVER LIFE MAGAZINE
Whether Howard Petrick actually lived through every one of the stories he tells of a wild youth spent running a rail yard, then heading out on those trains to avoid being drafted, his attention to detail is wickedly credible.
Do you know the difference between a hobo, a tramp and a bum, for example? Petrick can tell you.
This play is a prequel to his Breaking Rank!, which is about being drafted and being an agitator from within as he refused to fight in the Vietnam War. Here we learn how a young man with nothing, living on the edge of Minneapolis in the mid-’60s, makes his way amid a cultural explosion, when all he’s after is a good job and maybe some music in a grubby world full of stag-film theatres and used book shops.
This job he gets, in the yard, along with a reputation. “A friendly yard clerk will be well known in about a month and a half,” he notes, and he plays several roles, telling other people’s stories, including a haunted boxcar tramp drifting from place to place after the death of his wife, and of an infamous IWW recruiter hired to bust unions who creates them instead.
The socialist quotes, barflies, the inside look at union corruption and just the price of things in 1965 are all hypnotizing. Petrick is wrapped in a blanket of history he’s willing to share by the fire.
– Fish Griwkowsky, Edmonton Journal
It’s more than a monologue, as Petrick performs the roles of over 20 characters as he tells the story of his enlistment and his subsequent battles with Military Intelligence, proving George Carlin’s famous quip about oxymorons. The old-school officers don’t know what to do with him except try to get him to fill out meaningless forms.
Petrick is wonderfully smooth and totally engaging. Each of his characters not only have a distinctive voice, but their own body language and he makes seamless transitions from one to the next.
“Breaking Rank” is so well-conceived and perfectly performed that it rises above Fringe and would play as well on an off-Broadway stage. Uber-Fringe? Maybe… – CincinnatiPerforming Arts Examiner
“When Howard Petrick was drafted in the 60s, it took him an hour of study in the library to make him ready to confound the United States Army by refusing to provide any information besides his name. He did not refuse to be inducted, but he was against the War in Vietnam. A year later, he was inducted, and fought against the war from inside Fort Hood. Eventually, his anti-war efforts created investigations, journalistic interest, and worldwide reactions as a 19-year-old from Minneapolis became a savvy radical, waging a war to prove that soldiers didn’t want to fight a war they could not understand or support.
Petrick knows the story he tells, because he lived it. He speaks it with the words of a soldier, profane and cutting-edge straight. If you are anti-war, he will be your role model. If you support military intervention, he will open your eyes. There are shades of Catch-22, overtones of Gomer Pyle, USMC, and a foundation of Arlo Guthrie’s Alice’s Restaurant without the guitar playing.
There are wondrous scenes of learning the ropes of military life and sabotaging a “Know the Enemy” lecture by interrupting the instructor with facts. Petrick portrays all the characters, from green recruits to lost teachers to military lifers, each with his own identity. It’s a dazzling display with a self-deprecating honesty.
Petrick didn’t think he was a hero, just a man trying to live the thoughts of his heart, which can be the greatest kind of hero. – Kings River Life
Can a U.S. Army soldier legally oppose a war without disobeying orders from his commanding officers?
This question is at the heart of “Breaking Rank!,” a one-man show written and performed bySan Franciscobased Howard Petrick and directed by Mark Kenward.
Drawing on his own experiences of being inducted into the army during theViet Namwar, Petrick tells how he became an active-duty anti-war activist and one-time folk hero while trying to avoid being arrested or court-martialed.
Petrick portrays 20 or so military characters he encounters as he organizes and educates fellow soldiers to turn against the war while he still performs his assigned duties as he goes through basic training.
He quickly infuriates his army commanders who have a different opinion of his free speech and freedom of association rights. Troublesome Private Petrick is investigated by military intelligence as a legal case is built against him for subversive activities.
Petrick is not a natural actor though he does have a facility for inhabiting the various voices and accents of the soldiers and officers in his battalion.
And while “Breaking Rank!” loses some focus in the middle, Petrick’s laid-back style allows him to tell an interesting story with gentle humor and warmth, particularly when portraying the other young men he remembers such as the scared draftee he finds crying alone in the bathroom and an army cook who has an odd habit of deserting. – Cincinnati Enquirer
“Before ramping up the rhetoric about a holy war, perhaps our posturing prime minister should talk to Howard Petrick. Here’s a guy who really knows how to get up the nose of the war machine; in an entertaining one-man trip down memory lane to the 1960s, Petrick portrays himself, his fellow inductees and all the U.S. military brassheads at Fort Hood in Texas who tried to get this stubborn guy to conform, to behave and to Vietnam. Nope, not gonna happen, as Petrick relates sweet anecdotes about civil disobedience in the Gandhi vein. Digging in his heels at every turn to drive the Pentagon dithers, Petrick’s real-life adventure fills Rambo: The Missing Years with a simple nostalgia for the days when Americans had rights; he closes the show with a reminder that Bradley Manning, now in some hole without trial for leaking dirt on Iraq to WikiLeaks, can make no such feisty antiwar moves in our brave new world.” – Peter Birnie, Vancouver Sun; Sun Theatre Critic
“…relevant and real.” — Chris Felling, Culture Vulture Victoria.com
“This war can’t be going so poorly that they need me,” thought Howard Petrick when he was drafted by the U.S. Army in 1967. Petrick made headlines as a GI for his outspoken opposition to the Vietnam War, and he’s turned his experiences into a deftly crafted solo show. Petrick plays some 20 exquisitely delineated characters, including a teacher whose antiwar sentiments have cost him his job, a boy who enlisted to avenge his brother’s death in Vietnam, and numerous grumpy officers (one is described as “five feet six inches tall and four feet eight inches wide”). His ear for dialogue, particularly the often-vulgar language of the officers, is superb. More than mere entertainment, Petrick’s story resonates at a time when freedom of speech is a right that American soldiers still can’t take for granted.” – Kathleen Oliver, The Georgia Straight (Vancouver, BC)
“…the incredible true story…Playing as himself …and dozens of other characters that he brings marvelously to life, Petrick’s story is an important one, especially considering the vilification of returning soldiers from ‘Nam.” – The Visitorium
“It’s an engaging tale, often funny…Petrick’s writing is strong…valuable as a piece of history in a time when for much of the population, Vietnam is just a vague, long-ago event.” – Donald Munro, Fresno Bee
“Petrick has been everywhere hard at work promoting his excellent show around the Fringe. His self-effacing manner develops an instant rapport with the audience. He does a masterful job of delivering this autobiographical tale. We follow him from a naïve 19-year-old “screwing handles on screwdrivers” to a young draftee butting heads and ideals with a military that doesn’t tolerate independent thinking from its ‘employees’. He portrays the characters he encounters along his anti-Vietnam War odyssey within the military with both clarity and comedy. He actually becomes quite famous, though you won’t hear that from this humble guy. He even had a song written about him. His “aw shucks” attitude had me right there with him every step of the way, rooting for my new hero. Please don’t miss this true tale.” – Lisa Campbell, Jenny Revue
“…the potency of Rambo: The Missing Years springs from Petrick’s first-hand account of his anti-Vietnam activism from within the army…this comes with an intriguing authenticity.” – Randall King, Winnipeg Free Press
“It’s a fascinating personal story from a fascinating time in history. It’s well-paced and engaging.” – Ruth Shead, CBC Radio
“Billed as a comedy, this one-man offering from American writer/performer Howard Petrick definitely has its very funny moments. A true story, Petrick was drafted — sort of — to serve in the Vietnam War way back in 1967. In Rambo: The Missing Years Petrick delivers, by way of wonderful characterizations of a multitude of Army brass and other draftees, his tragi-comic story of working an anti-war campaign while being enlisted. For 60 minutes he has you laughing through the fear as he describes his daunting challenges trying get away with acts that border on treason, at least to the U.S. Army. Hanoi Howie gradually becomes a celebrity of sorts and Petrick’s smooth writing and linear flow makes his story super-engaging and yes, very funny. Of course, Rambo doesn’t join The Anti War Committee at Fort Hood, Texas and the rebellious Petrick gets thrown out of the Army. This piece will have you questioning much and realizing that although there is no draft in place currently, there are still some of the same issues revolving around soldiers and their reasons for enlisting.” – Jeff Monk, Uptown Winnipeg
“This is an important piece of history – from the common man’s point of view. And highly relevant…” – Janice Lacouvee’s Blog I have my own life to live