The New Orleans Fringe Festival kicks into top gear today, with shows at 5 p.m., 7 p.m., 9 p.m. and 11 p.m. through Sunday. The new Fringe hub off Architect and Port streets is a big improvement for the festival. Strung with lights, equipped with a full bar and food it's better suited for between-show downtime than the former tent on press street. There also are lounge areas and a fire pit.
Many shows already have good buzz. I caught three last night that are well worth recommending. (Gambit has also positively reviewed Oregon Trail, Possum Kingdom and The Adventures of Butt Boy and Tigger, which are running as "Bring Your Own Venue" shows.)
The concept for Washington D.C.'s Happenstance Theater's show is simple: an oddball bunch of stuffy Victorian socialites, inspired by Edward Gorey characters, have troubles maintaining their dignity. But the execution is brilliant, and even the slightest expressions of shock and horror or defiant glee in the face of misfortune are bizarrely whimsical, funny and fresh. Many of the vignettes are very short and the show moves at a great clip. The pretensions of opera fans is contrasted with a juggling butcher with a bloody apron, and twin schoolgirls who flirt with all sorts of danger. Two clueless cousins out for a walk find a body with a knife sticking out of it. They investigate and extract the knife to examine it. They determine that the knife is so fine and valuable that surely the owner will return to retrieve it. So they stick it back in the original wound (with slow deliberation and care) and go on their way, relieved that the matter is resolved.
The climactic scene is the company's new version of "Dangerous Croquet." In it, a maid has to fill in for The Ambassador, who is late for the game. Things go amiss when the a few mallets swing wildly, and the scene devolves into hilarious slow-motion slapstick as all the players are enraged by one of the society women's jealous players. Cabaret Macabre brilliantly mocks parlor dramas with its clowning and is a delightful show.
Cabaret Macabre is at Marigny Opera House 5 p.m. Friday, 7 p.m. Saturday and 9 p.m. Sunday.
Butcher Holler Here We Come
Aztec Economy's Butcher Holler is an intense drama set in a mine that has collapsed. Five miners are strung out and maybe even lost. The story is thick with miner jargon, about the mines and their lives as they are shaped by substance abuse and the unique bonds and codes demanded by their dangerous and other-worldly work. The drama gets more intense as the possibility arises that one of their actions may have caused the cave in. Portions of the piece is done in complete darkness, adding to the sense of confusion and fear. The detail about mining and living in coal country is very rich, but it's not explained in exposition. Leaving the audience in the dark about some things is part of the experience, and it is an effective way to draw the audience into the story and the crisis. The acting is excellent.
Unfortunately, the Thursday performance was interrupted by an audience disruption with roughly 10 minutes left in the show. But I thought the show was very compelling, the characters rich and nuanced, and the blackout immersion effective. The drama is good, but the show is very much about getting caught up in the moment and the feel of confusion and fear. That bit of discomfort gives the show an edge.
Butcher Holler Here We Come is at The Mudlark Public Theatre 7 p.m. Friday, 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sunday.
The Rendez-Vous is at 7 p.m. Friday, 9 p.m. Saturday and 11 p.m. Sunday at Den of Muses.