The chaotic artsy madness that is the Capital Fringe Festival is well underway. Patrick, Joanna, Kristin and Jenn are dashing from venue to venue, soaking up some experimental theater (and just soaking). We’re sharing our thoughts on Twitter as we go, and have some thoughts on how to get the most out of your experience. Here’s part one of our massive brain dump from the first week.
Recapped: Kubrilesque, Dark House, Our Boys, The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs: The Musical, Apples & Oranges, Impossible to Translate But I’ll Try
If you are expecting Kurbrick references, you’ll find them here. If you are expecting something classy, go elsewhere. Between the catcalls and the music that is blasted at you to let you know somebody is about to take off their clothes, I felt kinda trashy. The tongue-in-cheek show about a director creating a film gives the show a structure to include dance numbers, either real or imagined, but that’s about the only thing coherent about the piece. The numbers are all over the place as they take you through the epic filmography of Stanley Kubrick. Lady riding the atomic bomb from Dr. Strangelove? Check. People in masks a la Eyes Wide Shut? Check. Gorilla outfits? Check. Some of the numbers, particularly the group numbers, are passable, but the overall show is in need of a major re-edit. The comedic bits in between the dance numbers fall flat and the acting makes most late night movie rentals look like Best Picture nominees. For a show that runs 75 minutes, I felt like they could easily trim it down to 60. The scene changes are so long you could run to the concession stand and get another drink to help you get through the show (which some patrons actually did). The idea of a Kubrick-themed burlesque is interesting, and the Gala Theatre is a great venue to catch a Fringe show, however I’d rather sweat it out in Redrum on L St if that’s what’s going on over in Columbia Heights.
Dark House is a retelling of William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! set in Logan Circle. It’s a very ambitious play that touches on racism and sexism through one family over the past fifty years. Most of the play, like the book, is told in flashbacks. There are some truly beautiful and moving moments throughout the production. The small but capable cast doubles up on several characters. At times this works very well and we see the same actors vainly repeating the same actions while playing different people. Ultimately, I’m on the fence about paring down a Faulkner epic to 75 minutes. There was too much story for the pace. Characters blurred together and I didn’t really attach to most of them. If you are in the mood for a straight forward gothic drama and you like Faulkner you’ll probably appreciate Dark House. Did I mention it’s dark – really, really dark?
The writeup for this show in the Fringe brochure almost read like a tongue-in-cheek description of a new comedy poking fun at Victorian theater traditions. Instead, it’s actually a remake of an 1875 play. Once I realized that, I thought to myself, “They’d better really reinvent this wheel.” But the Victorian Lyric Opera Company did what its name would suggest: it kept the show very Victorian. Is this show cute? Sure. Is it fresh, fabulous, or Fringe? No.
The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs
The show that first received much praise then much criticism has taken on a new form: as musical theater. Amazingly the show still works, with less sitting down at a desk and more dancing and singing. Who knew the witty lines of Daisey would translate into melodic lyrics so well? The Junesong Arts production is helmed by writer Tim Guillot and director Ronee Penoi, who crowdsourced funding for the show through Indiegogo. The ensemble of Steve Isaac, Mikey Cafarelli, Emily Kester, Phil Dickerson, and Gillian Han are stellar and do a great job splitting work into individual roles. Guillot is also very clever in addressing the cloud of controversy that hangs over the original piece, particularly in one exchange between Daisey and an engineer at Foxconn. The rock score and other touches give new dimension to Daisey’s original work. Sure not everyone can deliver humor like Daisey, but the idea of putting his words into song delivers the laughs in a different way. So far this show is the highlight of my first weekend of Fringe.
Apples & Oranges
We’ve heard it. We know it. Relationships are hard. For some reason men and women have trouble communicating. Apples & Oranges does not seek to solve this problem. It is more of an experiment on listening and understanding that tries to pull the audience into the frustration of one couple’s arguments. Two teams of actors play Rex and Dana. One pair speaks English and the other speaks American Sign Language. The play intercuts between the couples so you are never sure what’s happened until a scene ends. Both couples are likable and expressive. They felt real. Apples & Oranges is more of a drama-dy than an comedy. The action unraveled a bit in the middle with some direct interpretation and audience participation. Was it effective? Yes. I felt confused from time to time, and I walked away with an urge to listen and understand others.
Impossible to Translate But I’ll Try
Noa Baum performed a lovely set of stories from her upbringing in Israel. As a traditional storytelling piece, the theater lights stay up and the performer speaks with the audience like a friend. It’s intimate and feels somewhat precious, especially as Baum infuses the stories with songs and lullabies.
Her six stories focus less on life in Israel specifically than on the general cycles of life, from childhood to love to parenthood. If you’re looking for a comment on Israel as a nation or political identity, you won’t find it here. But if you’re interested in meeting one very thoughtful Israeli woman and learning from her life experiences, you will leave very satisfied.
More to come…