09 Fringe: High at the End of the Final Saturday

 

Oh, my, the final Saturday of the 2009 Indy Fringe Festival here in Indianapolis, Indiana was sublime.  The weather was glorious, so the walks between theatres were almost as invigorating as the shows themselves.  Plus, I spent most of the day with my theatre buddy, Adrienne Reiswerg, which I always enjoy.

Best of all, the day included a satisfying mix of shows that ended with one of the most exhilarating theatrical experiences of my life: the 10:30pm performance of “Waiting with M. Godot,” by Ronn Johnstone.  The light-hearted yet profound script about love and relationships was a treat to begin with, and in that particular sold-out performance, both the actors and the audience were “in the zone.”  Kurt Owens as the rudely mystical waiter, Monsieur Godot, and Nick Foreman as the sexy but overly-concerned-with-perfection Jaxon – a man who is waiting in a fancy restaurant to propose marriage to his girlfriend – were exquisitely hilarious.  The beautiful but “loud” girlfriend, Dani, was charmingly played by Lisa Ermel.

I know that “magical” is a cliché when it comes to writing about theatre, but this truly was.

No one wanted to leave the Theatre on the Square’s second stage area afterwards, including me, so I made three more little videos.   One is the one you see above, with the director, Steve Pierce.  Unfortunately, the one I made with actor Nick Foreman by himself did not record.  (Hope, darn it: the little red light has to be blinking!) However, I’m not sure you would have been able to hear him anyway because the still-packed theatre was very noisy then.  So I’ll just tell you that this exceptional actor is a cutie in real life, too, and based in Chicago.

Here he is with Kurt – who was already one of my favorite actors and who now is even higher in my esteem! – a little bit later:

 

I am tempted to let “Waiting with M. Godot” be the last show I see at this year’s Fringe because it left me feeling so high on theatre and life in general.

Well, while I think about that some more, let me tell you about the other three shows I saw on Saturday, in the order I saw them:

Selections from the Spoon River Anthology” –

This was an interesting collection of related monologues written by Edgar Lee Masters, directed by Breshaun Joyner, and produced by Starrynight Productions out of Bloomington, Indiana. 

Projected on the screen at the back of the Earth House stage there was a huge slide of a black-and-white photo of headstones at a cemetery.  Ten actors came out one by one at the beginning and took their positions to form a sort of tableau.  They wore old-timey clothes except for their feet, which were bare.  We came to understand that they were the memories of the people buried in the cemetery.  They were all former citizens of a place called Spoon River.  One by one, we heard a little about how they had lived and died.  Some of the actors pulled on jackets, shawls, or other costume elements to become more than one character. 

Not all of their stories were gentle, by any means, but the overall effect was one of gentle timelessness.  “Remember us,” the characters all said, in so many words, even as they were fading away.

Neither Adrienne nor I knew anything about the book on which the play is based, but now we are both planning to see if we can borrow The Spoon River Anthology from our local libraries.

A Cynic Tells Love Stories” –

Katherine Glover is a solo performer based in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota.  In this piece, she shared several personal stories of love, lust, heart break, and hope. 

There is always a danger with personal stories that the audience will feel as if they are witnessing the teller’s therapy rather than participating in the bringing to life of stories that have universal themes.  The first is almost always a yucky experience for the audience but the second can be transformative, or at least enjoyable, for all concerned.

Katherine’s telling style and the content of her stories are both very confessional, but what made this piece enjoyable art for me instead of make-me-squirm therapy were three things:

  • Her basic story crafting was skillful. For example, the way Katherine shaped and combined the elements of her stories was pleasing and easy to follow. This rarely happens by accident or “off the cuff.”
  • The combination of bravery, wisdom, and humbleness that came across in her telling style was both appealing and thought-provoking. And completely relatable, at least for me. And Adrienne said later over dinner, “Didn’t you just want to stop and talk about something she had said every few lines or so?!”
  • Her content was unique. Maybe I lead a sheltered life, but this was only the second time for me to hear a bisexual woman’s stories in a public setting, and my first time ever to hear a bisexual’s stories in a solo storytelling piece at the Fringe.

It took a while for the audience to warm to Katherine, I think, but by the end we were right there with her.  I think the connection would have happened sooner if the house lights had been up, or at least not so completely dark and theatrical.  Monologues are fine, but the most powerful storytelling happens when the Fourth Wall is truly eliminated and the teller can see the faces of her listeners as she tells.

The Stetson Manifesto” –

Adrienne sat this one out.  I wanted to see it because the director, Jim Lucas, has been very supportive of my blog, and because I had seen and enjoyed the work of two of the three actors in several other shows.

I’m glad I saw it, but I have to say that it is probably the most depressing of all the Fringe shows I’ve seen this year. 

An experienced cowboy named Catfish (Bill Becker) is told by his young co-worker, Rory (     ), that he has to wear a helmet on the range now instead of his beloved Stetson hat because one of the other ranch hands fell off his horse and won a suit against the Cattleco corporation.   Rory is respectful of Catfish, but Catfish is still having a hard time with all of the changes that have taken place since Cattleco took over the ranch.   One of the ranch’s middle managers, Bobby (Carrie Fedor), has zero sympathy for Catfish and is ready to fire him to make room for more malleable people like Rory, who “get the big picture.”

There are some good laughs in this piece, but overall it is just plain bleak, especially since no one, not even the manager, is truly happy with what they’re doing.

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But as I say, I ended my evening with “Waiting with M. Godot” and that experience made me high on life and love.

This whole 2009 Indy Fringe Festival has been that way, really.  An exceptionally enjoyable experience.  This year I paced myself pretty well (or better than the first two years, anyway) and I didn’t (and don’t!) feel guilty about not seeing and writing about every show.  No one can, not even the staff at Nuvo!  I saw and wrote about 28 shows even though I had to work at my day job for part of the week.  That is not bad, Hopie.  Not bad at all.

I also learned some satisfying new things about blogging, micro-blogging, video-making, audience development, and iPhones.

I also avoided clueless, unavailable heartbreakers this Fringe.  Never mind the details.  I will just tell you that that made a WORLD of difference in my ability to relax and enjoy everything and everyone else.  Who knew?

I also met a wide variety of amazing performance artists and other people that caressed my heart, stimulated my mind, and shared an incredible array of gifts with me.

What a great week it’s been.

So now I think I will head back downtown for the last day of the 2009 Indy Fringe Festival after all.  Today, though, I’m leaving my media pass in my purse and not writing about any of the shows I see.   Performers I see today won’t get a review from me, but they will get ten dollars.

Life is good.

Hope Baugh – www.IndyTheatreHabit.com and @IndyTheatre on Twitter and IndyTheatreHabit on YouTube.

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