Sometimes I am accused of “liking everything.” I used to try very hard to explain that I do not, actually, like everything. Nor do I “get a boner for everyone” as I overheard someone say about himself yesterday.
However, I do focus very specifically on what I appreciate for my blog readers, including myself.
So now I tell people that if you think my approach to reviewing is a cop-out, why don’t you try it. It can be very hard work. Get beyond “That was great!” and articulate why something was a satisfying entertainment experience. Or get beyond “That was disappointing!” and articulate what you would keep and build on if you were in charge of improving it. Articulate and document what was worthwhile about the experience in order to nurture that part of it. Someone else, probably the artists themselves and maybe other reviewers, will take care of what doesn’t work.
And by “nurture” I’m not talking about helping individual performance artists by giving them feedback. I’m not even talking about helping individual theatre-goers decide what to see. I’m talking about a cosmic stewardship/sacred calling kind of thing. What we give attention to is what grows. My reviews are usually, I hope, lovingly detailed because I love going to live theatre shows. I love spending time thinking about them afterwards, too.
On the other hand, when the sun streams in the bedroom window after you’ve only had five hours sleep and it’s only the first Sunday of the week-long 2009 Indy Fringe Festival in Indianapolis, Indiana, the most efficient thing is to just slam out a few first-impression notes before it’s time to take in the next show.
So…here’s what I’ve seen so far at the Fringe this year, in the order I saw them:
“Phi Alpha Gamma” –
Powerful dramatic piece that subtly demonstrates that gay-bashing bashes the bashers as much or even more than the bashees.
Playwright Dan Bernitt is the only performer here but he brings to life four distinct fraternity brothers, including the one who broke the arm of a gay brother named Aaron, whom we never actually meet. This piece has flashes of humor but it is mostly a serious piece that will make your breathing slow if you don’t let yourself get distracted from the music bleeding into the ComedySportz venue from the restaurant next door. It helped me to imagine the music bleed was a conscious artistic choice designed to evoke the relentlessly real background noise of a fraternity or a prison, which is where this play takes place.
I also found it fascinating to step back in part of my mind and look at how Dan had structured the piece so that even though he is the only actor, it is not simply a collection of related monologues. The characters have conversations with each other, but there’s no feeling of being at a tennis match. If I had time, I would see this play again just to have a second look at the technical aspects of it.
This is very different from Dan’s 2007 Indy Fringe piece, “Thanks for the Scabies, Jerkface,” but it is definitely worth seeing, probably by adults only.
“Wanda & Rhonda’s Bitchin’ Bingo Bash” –
I sat with SmallerIndiana regulars Lorraine and Andy Ball for this piece. At the end, Lorraine said, “Oh, I could have listened to them all night!” I laughed a lot, too.
Tony McDonald (who is also the playwright) and Adam O. Crowe play two women from Beech Grove, Indiana. They run a bingo game as part of their sisterly “gossip time.” Producer Paul Dancel handed each of us a bingo card and pen as we entered the ComedySportz venue. In between riffs and tiffs and stories, the sisters take turns tumbling the bingo balls and calling out numbers while we audience members carefully check and mark our cards in between laughs.
There’s a lot of clever language in this and the two guys’ facial expressions and other mannerisms are priceless. Sometimes I found myself laughing but then thinking, “Wait a minute. That’s actually pretty offensive. Why am I laughing at these stereotypes?” But I think that was Tony’s point: Bigotry is offensive, but if we don’t find a way to laugh about it while we fight it, we’re sunk.
“Wanda and Rhonda” is very different from this group’s 2008 piece, “Jealous Sky,” but it is definitely worth seeing, probably by adults only.
“The Hefner Monologues” –
The premise of this endearing and very high-energy solo storytelling piece is that the storyteller – a man in his 20s named John Hefner – has had a hard time figuring out who he is or making a name for himself while living under the shadow of his estranged relative, Playboy founder Hugh Hefner, and his own alcoholic father.
However, his autobiographical stories go far beyond that personal struggle to explore universal themes. They are hilarious and touching.
This was my first time to hear John tell, so I don’t know if he is always as fully present and responsive to the audience as he was on Friday night, but in any case, it was a treat to be there.
Plus, if you go to this show, you get a 7-year-old’s glimpse into the Playboy Mansion. That, alone, is worth the price of admission.
(This show is probably for adults only, too.)
“Mr. Charles, Currently of Palm Beach” –
Theatre on the Square’s artistic director, Ron Spencer, stars in this hilarious piece about a man who was voted out of New York City for being too gay. Now he lives in Florida where he conducts a wee-hours radio show to address gay-related questions. He is assisted by a gorgeous young man named Shane.
I was going to ask for Shane’s last name after the show so that I could put it in my review…until he came on stage with NO CLOTHES ON AT ALL. So now I’m just going to tell you that he is gorgeous everywhere and leave it at that.
Ron as Mr. Charles is delightful. Within the main character, Ron gives us glimpses of several well-delineated movie characters as well, including the Wicked Witch of the West.
The script itself is mostly froth, but it does poke fun at both homophobes and gays who take themselves too seriously.
Do I even need to say that this show is for adults only?
“An Evening of Stories with Kevin Kling and Simone Perrin”
When I came out of this Fringe show at the Phoenix Theatre I immediately tweeted to my Twitter followers that this is a MUST-SEE for adults and teens. Kevin Kling is a poetic yet down-to-earth storyteller from National Public Radio. I don’t know anything about Simone Perrin except to say that she is intoxicating both visually and musically. The combination of the two of them is beyond potent, beyond healing, beyond inspiring.
In his stories for this show, Kevin loosely explores the theme of duality – story and song, beauty and the beast, myth and logic, whole and disabled, love and fear, etc. He tells one of his signature language-rich stories while Simone listens attentively, relishing the humorous surprises in each story as I do, too, even after hearing them for the umpteenth time.
Then Simone clasps her accordion and sings a song that is not exactly related to the story that Kevin just told but a perfect next course – something bluesy or flirty or thought-provoking. Kevin listens to her as attentively and appreciatively as she had listened to him.
They go back and forth, listening and telling. They don’t make a big deal out of listening attentively to each other, but it is as much a pleasure to be in the audience for that as it is for the stories and songs. They are not life partners – Kevin mentions Mary, his significant other, in one of his stories – but they are brilliant performance partners.
They are both from Minneapolis but the Indy Fringe Festival is the first place they have done a full show together like this.
I wouldn’t bring your little kids to this simply because the stories are more of interest to adults, but I would love to bring my boss, my parents, my siblings, and all of my adult and teenaged friends to this.
“55 Minutes of Sex, Drugs, and Audience Participation”
Loren Niemi and Howard Lieberman’s storytelling show for adults is completely different each time, although I imagine that it always has a certain literary feel to it as well as an element of creative daring and eroticism.
The first twelve people in the theatre get a free beer donated by the tellers. The whole audience gets to vote on whether or not they want the R-rated version of the stories or the X-rated version. Loren said they have yet to do the R-rated version.
I heard it was pretty rowdy the first night. When I went to the Phoenix, on Saturday, this show was sold out, and people were ready to be rowdy but the stories, by the luck of the fishbowl draw, took us to intense places instead.
I wish I had time to go to all six performances of this show, to see where the stories lead each time.
But even more, I now wish I had a lover on whose body I could place postcards and then lick my way around the world.
“Another Classic of Western Literature”
My post-show tweet for this piece was “chewy and hilarious.” It is, indeed, bizarre and bark-worthy, filled with amazingly layered characters, didn’t-see-THAT-coming plot twists, and great line after great line after great line.
It is also a richly staged play – something you don’t see often at the Fringe because everything has to be very portable and easy to change in time for the next show 30 minutes later. This show, in spite of the Fringe constraints – has interesting and effective lighting, sound, and costume designs and the handful of set pieces are perfectly chosen.
The acting is stellar. Chuck Goad, Sam Fein, Rich Komenich, and Matt Roland are my heroes. Michael Shelton directed.
I left this show laughing and thinking “WTF?!” but it was a satisfied feeling rather than a frustrated one, if that makes sense.
“7 (x1) Samurai”
At the end of this show, a woman sitting near me said, “Whew! That wore me out!” but I could tell she meant it was a good kind of exhaustion. I felt the same way. Solo performer David Gaines had taken us with him on an epic Japanese journey that involved brigands, villagers, and yes, seven samurai…using only a couple of masks that fit into specially-constructed pockets inside his Japanese-style jacket plus his wealth of skills as a vocalizing mime.
I wish I could afford to fly my father up here from Florida to see this show. He loves samurai movies, and the few I’ve seen, I’ve seen with him. This show gave me the same feeling of those movies: lots of glorious, blood-spattered battle scenes and men defending their honor with skill and daring and mostly (but not completely) incomprehensible language whose meaning comes through in tone of voice and gesture.
I was delighted when two of my Fringe buddies from last year, Maureen and John, sat in front of me and reminded me of our connection. I’m looking forward to reading John’s comments again this Fringe here on my blog. (We will probably disagree on some things, but that is okay.)
My ambition is to write a longer, more organized review for each show, accompanied by links to other reviews and info about the show. I don’t know if I will actually have time for any of that, but again, what we pay attention to grows and I like to read about theatre as well as see it, so I’m going to try.
I am also, in the meantime, continuing to learn a lot about how to make videos “on the street” at the Fringe with my new iPhone. Oh, my, I still have a lot to learn about the mechanics of this! However, I’ve had some lovely video conversations with people already, including the one with story lovers Ellen Munds and Howard Lieberman, above. I look forward to having even more.
Now I’m heading back downtown to try to get in to Brent McCoy’s “Blunder Construction.” (It sold out yesterday along with several other shows and it’s only the first weekend of the Fringe! Can you believe it!?) Then, whether I can get in to Brent’s show or not, my main goal for the day is to find the Earth House venue and see shows there until I drop or until they turn out the lights. I’ll fix any typo’s in this post later. Also: somewhere in my vast (hah!) social network I remember seeing a message from FringeNext playwright Kelly P. Lusk but just now I can’t find it again. Kelly, if you happen to read this, thank you for your message! I’ve heard good things about “Love/Out” and I hope to get a chance to see it.
‘See you at the Fringe!
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