Fringe-For-All 2008

Fringe-For-All was a pretty wild time, as usual: a packed house of enthusiastic theatregoers, and a rapid-fire smorgasboard of various categories of lunacy.

I didn’t get to see as much as I’d like this time around, since I was performing as part of two groups, one in the first half and one in the second — I saw several from the back, or in-between, or on my way to something else, but I don’t really think that it’s fair for me to try to provide any kind of reasonable analysis of them.

The six that closed out the first half, though, I feel comfortable dishing out an opinion on.

SHOW TITLE: JACK
COMPANY NAME: Eric Van Wyk
LOCATION: Mixed Blood Theatre
YOUTUBE CLIP: here
EVER SEEN BEFORE? Not to my recollection.

I’m a fan of both puppetry and faery-tales, and Jack the Giant-Killer has a special place near my heart. I have to confess that these three minutes didn’t leave a very strong impression. In his defense, this clearly wasn’t his audience — but I had a hard time visualizing exactly what his audience was. By far the high point were the long, uncomfortable gory death scenes — but I think I needed them to be pushed much further to constitute a worthwhile joke. The fart gags had me rolling my eyes, though the introduction of a living actor into the world of puppets was a cool gimmick — and one that it seems he could get a lot of mileage out of if played well.

I did, however, get to witness him again at another showcase in which I was both fascinated and entertained. So this could easily have been a fluke.

SHOW TITLE: How Does a Drug Deal Become a Decent 3rd Date?
COMPANY NAME: Green with Envy Productions
LOCATION: U of M Rarig Center Thrust
YOUTUBE CLIP: none available
EVER SEEN BEFORE? Not to my recollection.

This was a video clip sent in by a group of out-of-town performers, and I have to admit that it didn’t leave much of an impression, either. (Although there was one amusing gag in which an actress looked directly out into the camera to plug the show.) Previews of this nature are hard, are fucking hard, and this is one that seemed to sidestep the problem entirely by doing a preview about doing a preview for the show. The only problem is, it didn’t really convey any meaningful information to me about what their show was about, and I still don’t know any more than I would from reading their show description. So, kind of a wash.

SHOW TITLE: Robin Hood The Musical!
COMPANY NAME: Top Hat Theatre
LOCATION: U of M Rarig Center Proscenium
YOUTUBE CLIP: here
EVER SEEN BEFORE? Not to my recollection.

Robin Hood is one of the characters that’s been living far too long in my head. I’ve been compiling notes for an adaptation about his life for at least — four years now? That’s four years of picking apart the ballads and the various adaptations, and I have a very clear idea in my head of what my Robin Hood is like — which renders me totally incapable of rendering any kind of fair judgment. This one seems all wrong to me — he’s too sweet, too approachable. My Robin is fucking dangerous.

So it’s significantly to this company’s credit that, in spite of my ingrained prejudice, and in a mere three minutes, they thoroughly charmed me. I’m sure there are plenty of other critics with a much stronger musical background than me who can pick apart the technical aspects of their performance, but that doesn’t really interest me — I was impressed by the totally sincere, unironic, emotional engagement of both the performers. Performing something this unapologetically sweet in a snarky Fringe environment is a pretty goddamn bold move, although I don’t know to what degree the performers were aware of that.

So I’ll probably be sitting in the audience, struggling against a wildly variant interpretation to one that I’m prepared to accept. But I am going to make a big effort to be in the audience.

SHOW TITLE: HafenGeist
COMPANY NAME: Invocatio
LOCATION: Ritz Theater
YOUTUBE CLIP: here
EVER SEEN BEFORE? Not to my recollection.

And speaking of fantastic stories that I have an emotional history with — Hansel und Gretel is one of the first full-length shows I ever adapted and directed. I love the story, and I love its titular characters. The Grimm Brothers are famous for being, well, grim, but this is a story that’s uniquely gritty — in which the fantastic elements are grounded in some dismayingly realistic depictions of poverty.

This is a production that seems, on its surface, prepared to embrace those elements — one that doesn’t portray its heroes as cheerful, fat German kinder, but children in an intimidating world. The three performers had a…range of skill levels, to put it politely; but the underlying concept is an interesting one, and one that they seem prepared to commit to. So sign me up.

SHOW TITLE: The Chasm: Two Prevailing Winds of Gabriela Mistral
COMPANY NAME: Disquietude Theater Company
LOCATION: Ritz Theater
YOUTUBE CLIP: here
EVER SEEN BEFORE? Not to my recollection.

This is another dance group that suffered from a range of movement skills — perhaps more visibly here, since this was a piece that relied upon coordinated ensemble movement, more so than the story-driven movement of HafenGeist.

That’s the analytical approach. The personal approach is to say that I found this compelling stuff — but that’s largely because I find small, slight, powerful women, clothed in diaphanous, classical robes, to be fascinating possibly to the point of being a fetish. (This has caused me public embarrassment in previous years, to a point that I’m actually glad that some of the Fringe archives haven’t gone online yet.)

It may be a churlish reason to be interested in a production. But it’s an aesthetic I just can’t look away from.

(At least in this case, I’m reasonably certain that all the performers are over 18. Shudder.)

SHOW TITLE: The Gypsy and the General
COMPANY NAME: 3 Sticks
LOCATION: Theatre de la Jeune Lune
YOUTUBE CLIP: here
EVER SEEN BEFORE? Yes; I had the pleasure of witnessing their remarkable immigration satire Borderlines, as well as their contribution to Five Fifths of Wizard of Oz. I’m a fan.

I would be very surprised if this doesn’t turn out to be a Fringe hit. Actors rocketed onto the stage and rapidly shifted between a series of inventive object manipulations, to create a series of different environments. I have no idea what was going on, and I don’t care — it was pretty fucking cool.

As a speculative fiction geek, I usually find myself complaining about the dearth of fantasy in the Fringe world — if the few shows I was able to catch are any indication, this is a year that will please me mightily.

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