Into the Fray: First Night of Fringe

16650498-10154952496333582-877048705-nAmid the dismally, dreary haze of Friday evening, there was a certain excited hum and rattle that illuminated the day as it settled into dusk. This excitement was the anxious anticipation and elated knee-knocking of the performers awaiting their turn to take one of the several stages for Pittsburgh Fringe Festival. I embarked on the evening, delirious, after a full day of work, and entered the dimly lit St. Mary’s Lyceum, a locale that epitomizes the curious grit and history of Pittsburgh’s North Side. My first show of the evening, perhaps capitalizing on my 9 hour day-delirium, was a frenetic showing by a couple of willy comedians, Kevin & Ian: Too Stoo2id: A One Man Show. The nonsensical nomenclature of the show is revealed in the opening of the moments, in which the titular dudes of Ape Yard Productions attempt to introduce their show, only to frustratingly realize their egos are disallow them to introduce themselves as separate entities who equally share the limelight. Jocular antagonism carries the show, with the boys having an unuttered one-upping relationship that imbues the antics of their hour-ish long show. Kevin & Ian…has an array of absurdist stock characters—Cheap Vito, a quintessential, ruthlessly parsimonious, track suit wearing “guido;” Nolastradamus, a flamboyant, completely clueless, Nawlins-horn blasting predictor of the future that has already passed; and a strange French man who appears to have stumbled into the wrong high school reunion—that sometimes miss the mark a bit in their hyperbolic bits, but ultimately tickle the audience. The show is perhaps at its strongest in the moments of subtly, like a sketch in which the two men ask one another to describe themselves, only to be met with expressive silence or bloodcurdling screams. This banal ludicrousness is the true skill of the duo, and their female counterpart, who appears at ideal moments to cut the boyish rollicking. Perhaps one of the most cohesive shows, interestingly, Kevin & Ian succeeds in honoring the rules of sketch comedy, in which certain characters or tropes reappear and permeate other sketches, highlighting the peculiar artifice of the show.

Fresh from comedic romping, I scuttled over to the cozy and ambient Allegheny Inn, a welcome respite from the incessant drizzle outside. The cover_origsumptuous couches and gorgeous décor was the very apropos setting for Alan Irvine’s one man performance Lost Love: Tales of Tragic Romance. Though sparse style, Irvine’s rendering of three tales—Romeo and Juliet; the story of Queen Maeve and her sister; and a personally crafted story about an enigmatic specter, Ann—was remarkable in its passion and Irvine’s meticulousness was impeccable. While I was personally alarmed at the number of specific details I was able to recall from Romeo and Juliet (which I read two thirds of in ninth grade and then never touched it again), I was also impressed with Irvine’s ability to make the stories and visually vivid as possible. In a festival otherwise marked with theatrics, Lost Love was a wonderful interlude in the tradition of classic, fireside yarn-spinning.

bbshakespeareLike the human pinball, I pinged back to St. Mary’s, where the bartender became my best friend after Cocatrice’s cancellation, and I found myself waiting for my final show of the evening Elizabeth Wants a Swordfight to begin. There was a certainly exhausted but definitively elated bustle in the old elks club lounge, as various costumed individuals scurried around, marginalia from sets and props scattered about. It was the energetic thrall that reminded me of my earliest moments watching, organizing and taking part in theatrical performances. There was a nascent exuberance to Fringe that was undeniable. This exuberance was certainly present in Elizabeth Wants a Swordfight, a robust, quirky piece put on by the Brawling Bard company. The company’s experience was evident throughout the show, the performances steeped in precision, phenomenal timing, and physical/acrobatic spunk. The titular Elizabeth and her guide through the strange, Shakespearean-tinged quest for a sword fight and perilous fun, were plucky highlights of the show. Elizabeth…was the ideal, somewhat surreal, conclusion to a 13 hour day.

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Special thanks to the Pittsburgh Fringe Festival for complimentary press passes. For more information about Fringe, click here.