Friday, November 21, 2014

Review: The New Orleans Fringe Festival so far

Posted By and on Fri, Nov 21, 2014 at 5:25 PM



click to enlarge Goat in the Road Productions' Numb is a lively drama about the discovery of anaesthesia.
  • Goat in the Road Productions' Numb is a lively drama about the discovery of anaesthesia.

The New Orleans Fringe Festival has more than 80 shows to choose from and there is a great variety of options. Below are reviews of shows we’ve seen so far. Apologies to all the shows we didn’t get to.

Gambit has already reviewed a couple of shows running in the festival, including Oxblood and Maria Kizito.

There has been confusion about Now Now Oh Now by Rude Mechanicals at the Contemporary Arts Center. The show is part of the CAC’s season, and a few (but not all) shows accept Fringe tickets and passes for admission. The two remaining Fringe-access shows are at 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Other shows require tickets from the CAC box office.

My Horse’s Name is Loneliness
Several years ago, playwright Matthew Hancock and Aztec Econcomy presented the spaghetti Western spoof My Aim Is True at the Fringe. In it a silent stranger murdered his way through a tumbleweed town, killing a slew of humorous versions of stock Western characters: saloonkeeper, barber, gambler, frontier doctor and a prostitute. In My Horse’s Name is Loneliness, the silent stranger walks into a Mayberry-like town featuring most of the same characters as The Andy Griffith Show. The sheriff jails the murderer and has his own nonviolent creed tested as murderous vigilantes come out of the woodwork to deliver their own justice. He has to restrain the over-eager but bumbling Barney Fife-like deputy and protect his daughter Opal from the evils of the world.

Hancock’s caricatures are brilliant, and excellent acting makes the show soar. The story unmasks the supposedly good-natured and idyllic small town of Mayberry, and the cold-hearted, straight-shooting stranger becomes a source of dry humor. The group’s three previous works stuck to genres and sharply drawn and compact niches (spaghetti Western, Victorian-set murder mystery, etc.). This piece mixes up time periods, genres and references and makes anything seem possible in a piece that's smart and funny and a highlight of the festival. — WILL COVIELLO

For the Sins I Can Remember
Inspired by 19th-century accounts of prostitution in different parts of the U.S., For the Sins I Can Remember is a courtroom drama set in purgatory, where a prostitute petitions her final judgment. The woman on trial confronts two comically inept clerks of court, a pair of clowns dressed in powder wigs and pancake makeup, and defends herself against charges of “criminal intimacy.” The show has funny moments, but the heart of the story is a dark chronicle of the woman’s life on earth as she grows from an “incorrigible child” to a “lewd woman.” Flashbacks are told through somber, sometimes violent, choreographed physical performances that build up to a viciously vulgar cabaret as the woman on trial accounts for her sins. The impressionistic narrative is puzzling at times, and some questions are left unanswered, but the combined elements effectively portray a woman who spent her life facing the harsh judgments of others, only to find that death offers no escape. — BRAD RHINES

Numb
Goat in the Road Productions manages to mix an erudite discourse on the slow and relatively unaware early discovery period of anaesthesiology with exuberant playfulness, direct address of the audience and gratuitous bending of rules about the fourth wall in theater. An actor (Ian Hoch) breaks character to say the doctor he plays won’t repeat a list of medical diagnostic terms, and to placate the audience, he offers, “I’ll play a bird later.”

Writer/director Chris Kaminstein’s play features a trio of doctors and their spouses and associates, working and socializing, as the dawn of the medical use of anaesthesia arrives. As detailed as the work is, the action and dialogue often dwell on their whims and daily lives. If a trio of adults trying laughing gas for the first time looks like kids getting really high for the first time, that seems to be the intention.

The unconventional stage is narrow but deep and the actors bounce around it constantly, and dance, physical clowning and clever movement add to the piece’s upbeat tone. It’s an entertaining show with solid performances from all six players. — WILL COVIELLO

(Almost Definitely) Questionable Acts
(Almost Definitely) Questionable Acts is more than the sum of its parts. In the absurdist vaudevillian show, performers CB Goodman and Josh Rice string together vignettes that showcase an array of skills, including puppetry, mime, slapstick and acrobatics. There are quiet pieces that touch on intimacy and relationships, while others loosely address social issues, including a bit that reimagines executed Italian anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti as a comedy duo in the style of Laurel and Hardy. Goodman and Rice interact with the audience throughout the show, and both come across as warm and open (though Rice says at one point that he’s “a really good liar”). There’s no obvious unifying theme, but the series of gags is oddly poignant, and on Thursday, the duo made a genuine, if momentary, connection to the crowd. — BRAD RHINES

LoopsEnd
The aerial theater company Paper Doll Militia presents two unrelated pieces, and both feature original and intriguing rigging. The first piece begins with a large mop of tattered and knotted cloth tendrils hanging from a central loop. It has a cone like head, and as that raises from the floor, it reveals one of two identically costumed dancers. Eventually, one rips down all the fabric and the two begin a long duet on two loops of heavy chains. While industrial music plays, the two engage in physically demanding feats, constantly pulling the chains into different configurations as they hold onto one another and at times suspend each other free from the chains.

The second piece involved a stilt walker and five women climbing on white ribbons, at times bunched like ropes and at times used as screens or hammocks. It’s a bit mysterious in terms of narrative, but it featured some of LoopsEnd’s most dramatic moments, including when five performers maneuvered at a furious pace, climbing, twirling, changing ribbons and creating a mesmerizing chaos in the air. At times the aerial work was elegant, but it was more often gymnastic in its strength and speed. The company impresses with its riggings and troupe work, but the narratives are abstract. — WILL COVIELLO

Exquisite Mistake
Exquisite Mistake reimagines Henry James’ late 19th-century novel Portrait of Lady as a mod dance party, complete with impromptu dance numbers and an upbeat, bluesy score. In this immersive experience, the audience is the guest of honor, a collective stand-in for Isabel Archer, the protagonist of James’ novel who unexpectedly inherits a fortune. As Isabel, the roving audience is set upon by various characters — an old friend, a sad single father and a sensible cousin, among others — all of whom are eager to share in Isabel’s windfall. Combining choreographed performances with improvised interactions, Exquisite Mistake is both entertaining and engaging. Prior knowledge of James’ novel isn’t required, but it adds depth to the lightly sketched characters and contributes a better understanding of the show’s unresolved, choose-your-own-adventure style ending. — BRAD RHINES

The Other Mozart
Presented in a well-appointed Victorian home on Royal Street, The Other Mozart features Maria Anna Mozart, sister of Wolfgang Amadeus, holding court in one room as the audience looks in from an adjacent room. Maria Anna tells the compelling true story of two siblings, both musical prodigies who traveled Europe to great acclaim. But when Maria Anna reached an age where her public performances were considered improper for a woman, she was forced to give it up. Her younger brother went on to become one of the world’s greatest composers.

Maria Anna (alternating performances by Sara Fellini and writer Sylvia Milo) is surrounded by an elaborate 18-foot white dress as she recounts feelings of jealousy and woe. The story includes snippets of letters from Amadeus to his sister (“Nobody saved my letters,” laments Maria Anna), which chronicle the different lives of the adult siblings. The historical account proceeds chronologically, and the show runs 75 minutes. The drama isn’t tightly woven and at times is slow, but The Other Mozart offers an insightful perspective on a forgotten talent. — BRAD RHINES

The Wake
In The Wake, Ben Moroski plays Pete Harrisburg, an aspiring playwright and performer in Los Angeles debuting his first one-man show, a tribute to an ex-girlfriend. In an amusing bit of meta-performance, Pete breaks character to address the audience directly, recounting the events of the previous weekend. He’s met a new woman, and she turns out to be the ideal companion, except for one minor detail: she’s dead.

The Wake is an interesting vehicle to explore the dynamics of intimate relationships. In this case, Pete exalts in finding a woman who doesn’t judge him. He projects himself on to her image, and he sees himself reflected back. It’s a ridiculous premise, but Moroski plays it straight, detailing the ups and downs of being in a relationship with a corpse. The joke begins to wear thin as the play goes on, and the story starts to evolve too predictably, but Moroski’s strong performance carries the show. — BRAD RHINES

Bullet
Bullet is inspired by Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate, two teenagers who embarked on a murderous crime spree in Nebraska and Wyoming in the winter of 1958. Unlike other works based on the pair — including Bruce Springsteen’s “Nebraska” or Oliver Stone’s Natural Born KillersBullet doesn’t glorify or romanticize the violent affair, but instead presents Starkweather (Spenser Stokes) and Fugate (Brenna Hill) for what they were: dumb kids.

The show opens as an adolescent sex farce, with Starkweather as a pool hall greaser and Fugate as a sock hop sweetheart. The characters are cartoonish in their cluelessness, as the actors portray two kids pretending to be adults and grappling with the grown-up world of guns and lust. While much of the play focuses on the explosive emotional and irrational nature of the young lovers’ relationship, the violence that comes brings their childhood to an abrupt and chilling halt. — BRAD RHINES


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