This is the first Fringe Festival that I ever attended so I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. With today’s four plays, I got a little bit of everything including drama, comedy, cross-dressing, a little science fiction, and even bingo. More importantly, I didn’t dislike a single of the four shows and found a lot to admire.
Waiting for Death
I saw this play at Artists Image Resource, which has been converted to have a neat little stage. Produced by college students, Waiting for Death was staged by the WU Players, a group of college students from a variety of majors. The play revolves around the idea that the grim reaper comes to visit a dinner party. It’s suggested that the grim reaper will kill someone and the duration of the play is determining who will be the reaper’s victim. While this premise might sound like the play will be grim in nature, the story is actually tongue in cheek and that’s a remarkably wise choice. I won’t disclose the play’s ending, but it’s a clever choice that’s not expected by the audience.
In its current form, the play reminds me of a more comical approach combined with a tone reminiscent of some of the early Clive Barker plays. The actress playing the Grim Reaper is an inspired choice and is capable of a very strong deadpan delivery of lines. The Grim Reaper is an amalgamation of how Death has depicted in a very of cultures, but there was one monologue that reframed the “appointment in Samarra” story that appears in the novels of John O’Hara and Paul Bowles that fell a bit flat. But, this is a memorable play by a young group of actors with some genuinely funny lines. Waiting for Death started the evening on a comedic but somewhat serious tone.
I don’t often review dance pieces. I have nothing against dance, it’s just not an art form with which I am particularly familiar. Shown at Saint Mary’s Lyceum, Shedding Skin was created by Julie Leir-VanSickle of Creative Moves. An Idaho artist, Leir-Vansickle created the piece after watching her child’s reptile. Thematically, the plot would be described as a process of shedding one’s weight and being born anew.
Serious, and slow in tone, the intimacy of the work was its greatest charm. Leir-Vansickle started dancing without any formal announcement that was about to begin and concluded the work by confusing all in attendance by simply leaving the room. In between these two events, there were some moments where the dancer was simply lost in the dance, colliding between jarring violent rhythms and more graceful patterns. If this is what interpretive dance is, I’m going to have to look into this form much further because this was an engaging act.
Betsy Carmichael’s Bingo Palace
This is the most entertaining and enjoyable show that I’ve ever seen in Pittsburgh. Also shown at St. Mary’s Lyceum, Betsy Carmichael’s Bingo Palace is best described as a descendant of Dame Edna and Dixie’s Tupperware Party. The titular Betsy Carmichael is a drag version of an old woman who loves Bingo, wears outrageous glasses, and calls everyone “dear”. Betsy will beat you at Bingo, believe me, I know, I tried.
The performance, which is interactive, revolves around several rounds of Bingo with Betsy Carmichael, Betsy’s two female friends, and the man who reads the bingo numbers. If you don’t dance and make the proper hand motions when certain numbers are called, Betsy will yell at you. Most of the audience was laughing throughout the performance. If I didn’t have to go see more works at Fringe Festival tomorrow, I’d be headed to take in as much Betsy Carmichael as I could before she leaves town and goes back to Betsy’s native Buffalo.
The Principle was shown at Allegheny Inn, which is a building I’ve passed a thousand times as a resident of the war streets and often wondered what was inside. The space in a small corner downstairs basement with one strong light and some music cues was perfect for The Principle. Simplicity is what the work needed. Written by Alan Stevens, much of the dialogue in The Principle is very enviable and it works well to establish the tone of the play fluctuating between very dark humor and sad, almost heartbreaking poetry.
I’m not sure if The Principle was supposed to be a science fiction story or a particularly harrowing story of conversion therapy survivors. The play doesn’t attempt to explain which of these is true and that’s a clever decision because refusing to make such a decision allows both tones to exist in the world of the show. The play tells the story of Jess (Brittany Stahl) and Thomas (James Hartley) who have suffered through conversion therapy and are now being monitored by doctors. Both of these actors were remarkably talented performers. Hartley reminds me of a very young Robin Williams in the few early works when Williams acted serious and Stahl is a strong, quiet actress that is able to use comedy when necessary. I don’t often say this, but I loved the world, the tone, and the actors in The Principle and would enjoy seeing this play extended.
I started watching plays today at 4 and got done with The Principle around 9:45. I’m excited and curious what plays will form my second day of Fringe Festival.