Fringe Day 1: Passing Through and 5 Hams Fairy Tales

5hamspassingthroughFriday April 15, the first night of Pittsburgh Fringe Festival took me to the James Street Gastropub and Speakeasy for Cup-A-Jo Productions, Passing Through.  A world premiere play which takes place in a Pittsburgh bar, centered around open mic night regulars, spoken word artist Joanna, her boyfriend, musician Clay, and their mutual friend Jeremy.  Joanna tells Jeremy about her her first big artistic break; she’s invited to headline a 6 month long tour.  This means leaving Clay behind, whom she loves but also recognizes as being stuck and going nowhere, artistically and in life.  Clay realizes this too and uses the people around him as a vessel for expressing his angst.  He drives Johanna away emotionally, physically pushes Jeremy away and eventually ostracizes himself by acting like a jealous jerk.

The original musical score, a heavy retro grunge sound,  performed by the ‘house band’, made me wonder if this play was purposely written to be hallow in reminiscence of the lifestyle young twenty-somethings struggle through.  There are several attempts to incite audience participation but I just wasn’t excited or engaged enough to participate and I didn’t see a lot of others around me looking very enthused either.

The highlights of the show are Sadie, an open mic performer who sings with an Adele-esque soulful style and Jeremy’s performance as Joanna and Clay’s close friend.  He plays the part of a confidant and mediator without the melodrama. Passing Through plays two more times at the James St. Gastropub and Speakeasy Sunday and 1:30pm and 5:30pm.

St. Mary’s Lyceum Club, a small private club on Chestnut Street is an interesting spot for 5 Hams Fairy Tales, produced by Thoreau, NM.  St. Mary’s is one of those ‘old man clubs’ with cheap drafts, bottom shelf only liquor and smoking permitted in the bar area.  It’s an interesting venue because 5 Hams, is a performance appropriate for all ages and Friday night’s premiere drew an eclectic crowd.

The ensemble, Robin, Brian, Christine and Barb retell some classic Grimm fairy Tales, turning the dark and disturbing stories upside down with modern twist.   I love these renditions of children’s classics, the familiarity of the story meshed with adult witticisms that fly over the kids head.  It’s light hearted and fun.

The cast first performs Hansel and Gretel.  The kids are twenty-somethings with MBA’s living in their parents’ basement.  They get kicked out of the house and meet a wicked witch who wants to eat them.  When the kids ask the witch why she wants to eat children she explains the lousy economy and the adjusted rate mortgage on her cottage has made it difficult to afford groceries.

After Hansel and Gretel we are entertained by a collection of ‘groaners’.  Then a clever Snow White parody which consists of a wicked queen/ step mother freak out over step moms always taking the blame and the way blended families are represented in the media, but eventually the truth comes out; Snow White is really a vampire and the 7 Dwarfs are zombies.

Lastly, playwright James Michael Shoberg, Confessions of a Magic Mirror, reveals the fate of the wicked queen’s magic mirror.  This quick- witted and intelligent monologue tells us, through the voice of the mirror herself, how she is damned to live of the rest of time at the Jersey Shore, but even worse; speaks only in verse.

Parents shouldn’t worry about bringing children, there is no smoking in the performance space.  The cast is animated and clearly enjoying their characters.  The show is appropriate for all ages but might not hold the attention of children under 10 for the entire 45 minutes, older kids and those young at heart will appreciate the fresh dialogue and use of Merrie Melodies theme song.   5 Hams Fairy Tales plays two more times at St. Mary’s Lyceum Sunday at 11:00am and 5:00pm.

For tickets and more information about the Pittsburgh Fringe Festival, click here. Stay tuned for more reviews coming soon!