Are you fringe-ified yet? The Capital Fringe Festival is well underway, and our weekly round-ups continue. Check in with Patrick, Joanna, Kristin, and Jenn as they tweet on the fly and share their thoughts on this year’s experimental madness. If last week didn’t stop them from indulging in sweaty, passionate theater, then nothing will.
Recapped: A Commedia Romeo and Juliet, The Elephant in My Closet, The Afflicted, What’s in the BOX?!, The Tragical Mirth of Marriage & Love: Short Scenes by Anton Chekhov, How to Have It All: The Musical
A Commedia Romeo and Juliet
Commedia dell’Arte company Faction of Fools doesn’t disappoint with this comedic retelling of Shakespeare’s famous tragedy, which captures the notable funny moments in the Bard’s original work while adding a commedia flair that promises a lot of laughs. In an ambitious attempt to play all characters with only five actors, the small cast moves constantly and never lets the energy waver. At the same time, this adaptation retains Shakespeare’s tragic ending and stays true to the original text. So while it’s not the most original show at Fringe this year, it’s certainly one of most entertaining.
The Elephant in My Closet
David Lee Nelson has a shocking revelation for his father. As he builds up his courage to reveal the ultimate filial divide, the audience squirms in sympathy with this likable, appealing actor. He has a guilty secret. He’s turned to the other side. He’s now a Democrat! A clever slideshow and self-deprecating humor highlight this classic tale of the inevitable day when you break with your parents’ tradition. It benefits greatly from the suspense Nelson builds as he takes an increasingly uncomfortable audience through his wide-eyed childhood love of Ronald Reagan to his bombastic Republican radio loving twenties. The night I was in the audience, many were shaking their heads vehemently as Nelson passionately relived his youthful zeal, admiring George H. W. Bush’s “kind eyes,” only to safely breathe again when finding out he lost his political religion under George W. Bush. His Republican father will have the opposite experience, and Nelson deftly holds the mirror up to the audience’s own prejudices. The manipulation of the audience’s preconceived notions is what makes this one-man show more than just a coming-of-age tale.
The Afflicted, a production from The Wandering Theatre Company about the Salem Witch Trials, is a story told across time. Events that happen in the past have a distinct physicality to them. When the young girls of Salem are moving together in one voice or coming undone the play takes off. We gain glimpses into the hysteria that they were feeding, however, there is not a definitive answer as to why they made their accusations of witchcraft. Trying to make sense of it all falls to a present day writer researching the trials. This nameless character editorializes the action through text books and current sensibilities. It felt preachy, and I would have preferred to have seen a more fleshed out story set in the 1690s that trusted the audience to draw their own conclusions.
What’s in the BOX?!
The folks at Burlesque & Belly Laughs have been bringing shows combining improv and burlesque dancing to venues around the District for some time. For Fringe, the group have set up shop at Source where patrons get to see alternating sets of comedy and scantily clad women. Audience participation isn’t just limited to the improv – at the start of the show an audience member randomly selects one of the seven deadly sins that then becomes the overarching theme of both the improv and the burlesque. The dancers know how to tease and do so very well. The improv performers at my performance didn’t have the chemistry that a well oiled WIT troupe would have, but they were fun and made sure the audience were laughing too. Overall a solid choice and worth the trek away from Fort Fringe.
Pallas Theatre Collective’s rationale for producing several short plays by Anton Chekhov dealing with the subject of marriage might be considered timely given DOMA. However, The Tragical Mirth of Marriage & Love doesn’t really add much to the marriage debate mix. It seems a bit traditional and therefore out-of-place at Fringe, not breaking any new ground. It’s damn funny at times, with a vibrant, dedicated cast that chews scenery with great gusto, but it starts at too high a level of histrionics to give their talent anywhere to go, and it’s repeatedly the same level. If you’ve never seen Chekhov’s short pieces, it’s a good introduction and a lighthearted romp. But with all this talent on hand, I wish the company had aimed for more than just a traditional staging of a collection of scenes.
How To Have It All: The Musical
As the lights go up on Fully Charged Productions’ How To Have It All, the cast wants to let you know that they are sorry. They are sorry that we are stuck in the hotbox that is known as The Shop at Fort Fringe. They are sorry that there is no intermission. They are sorry for a lot of things, a lot of reasons that life isn’t perfect. But we all want our lives to be perfect. The new musical explores our overachieving society where we expect to be able to balance a successful family and work life and whatever other curve-balls life throws you. A divorced mother of two (Alanna Mensing) hopes to have it all as well and answers an infomercial from a self-help evangelist named Barbara (Susan S. Porter) who claims to have the perfect system to optimize your entire life. The concept is intriguing and the earlier songs show a lot of promise. However, the musical styling is all over the place, going from traditional showtune to dubstep to rap. Refinements are needed, but there could be something there.
More to come…