Earlier today we brought you parts one and two of our first week of Fringe, with Patrick, Joanna, Kristin and Jenn yapping about theater as usual. At long last, it’s the final installment, at least for this week’s go-around. Time for a beer. Hit the tent.
Recapped: Mark Twain’s Riverboat Extravaganza!, Violent Delights: A Shakespearean Brawl-esque Sideshow, Recovery, 21 King, Pitchin’ the Tent: Tia Nina Live at Baldacchino
Mark Twain’s Riverboat Extravaganza!
Easily the wittiest, most enjoyable show I’ve seen at Fringe so far, Pointless Theatre’s romp through the tall tales of American history mixes Vaudeville with puppetry to create something quite unique, not to mention, truly hilarious. I laughed from the pre-show interactions right on through to the end, and even sniffled a bit – who really can stay dry-eyed through the story of John Henry struggling against the evil might of the Industrial Revolution? You cry too, people, I know you do! The cast is spot-on, seamlessly embodying icons both real and imaginary, from Mark Twain and Tom Sawyer to Johnny Appleseed and Casey Jones, as they enliven the mythology of American history with a sincere wink. These were the stories we created to make sense of our tumultuous, rapidly changing nation. Pointless Theatre is a passionate, smart company that delights in experimentation. That’s what Fringe should be all about.
Violent Delights: A Shakespearean Brawl-esque Sideshow
Great fight choreography. Ambitious aspiration. Cloudy execution. When Off the Quill sticks to the “brawl-esque” aspects, highlighting the physical and stage combat talents of its cast, it’s a fun ride. When it meanders into murky dialogue or Shakespearean scenes cobbled together like the greatest hits of audition class, it fails. I saw a midnight show and maybe because of that I really expected a blood-spewing, scenery-chewing piece of epic theater Grand Guignol. Instead, it took itself far too seriously. These are clearly talented movement performers. So drop the Shakespeare, kill the self-indulgent philosophy. Pump in some freaky Fellini and have more fun with it.
The language of illness is fraught with difficulty. If you have cancer, for example, are you “battling” it? If you die, do you “succumb”? And if you live, are you a “survivor”? Playwright Mark Jason Williams had leukemia, and his work Recovery uncovers all those possibilities, including the human need to define ourselves in the face of illness, and the human desire to connect despite the uncertainty of our fate. Exploring what happens when two people tentatively delve into each other’s wounded psyches, interwoven with the testimony of other patients (not always likable) and pulling back to the viewpoint of doctors, it’s a piece that could easily dive into the maudlin. But in the hands of a capable and committed cast, it mostly avoids sentimentalism. Actors like Rachel Manteuffel and Marcus Salley seem effortlessly natural. It’s a shared human belief that hope triumphs, even in the face of death, and that belief comes across strongly in Williams’ work. If anything, it might be too hopeful. Would it benefit from more experimentation, more diving into the hell that is hospital life, forcing the audience to become truly as uncomfortable as someone facing a disease that could kill them? Maybe that would be more Fringe, but the fact that I’m still debating the play in my mind makes it a success to me.
Awkwardly paced, slow-moving and ultimately baffling, I just couldn’t get into this tale of a commercial real estate Jezebel taking no prisoners as she wrangles daddy’s company. Is it meant to be a cautionary tale about using feminine wiles in the business world? A sexual harassment HR nightmare training video? Is it supposed to be funny? Ironic? Serious? Literal? The intention didn’t register, and could use a lot more sharpening.
Pitchin’ the Tent: Tia Nina Live at Baldacchino
As sweat slowly rolled down my face, I thought, “This might just be the best Fringe show I’ve ever seen.” The tent should be packed to see the three fiercely committed dancer-choreographers embodying rock band Tia Nina – Leah Curran Moon, Ilana Silverstein, and Lisi Stoessel – as they explode and subvert the iconography of modern music legends. They ripped through the metal, punk, and rock genres with sly/wry/sexy wit, and by the time they were doing unspeakable acts to a poor blow-up goat doll, I was beyond hooked. This is dance theater at its absolute best, using movement to explore concepts like objectification, idolization, fetishization – just go see it, please, suffer the heat for these dance goddesses. You won’t regret it.