Religion, Murder and 9/11: Fringe Day 2

St. Jimmy Celebrates “Food at Our Feet” is right at home at the Pittsburgh Fringe Festival. Jimmy Grzelak delivers a sermon-like cabaret posing the question: What is the relationship between God, sustenance, copyright laws, sex, and Food network? While the answer is not explicitly stated, the journey is as satisfying as beat salad served with brie and figs on toasted naan. Perhaps with a bay leaf garnish. Slightly disjointed, the performance is carried on Grzelak’s plentiful charisma. This is certainly one of the most fringe-ish shows at the festival. Audience members hold pineapples for no apparent reason, follow in hymns to the great Sandra Lee, and recite copyright infringement laws like pieces of scripture. Part vocalist, part storyteller, part self-absorbed reverend, Jimmy Grzelak accomplishes something unique: a satire on religion without atheistic undertones. The Food at Our Feet breaks spirituality into its ingredients and serves a self-reflective dish.

Major (part of teen Fringe), written and directed by Maddie Ince and Casey Quinn, makes light of acting stereotypes in a farce about reunion. Two high school friends (Ince and Quinn), separated during college, dine together with their boyfriends. Most of the comedy comes from the significant others, one being a frat boy and the other a homosexual stereotype. Every actor plays their part very well. The writing is obviously geared towards high school students; many of the jokes are about the closeted sexuality of Julian (Matt Werner). The plot goes straight from exposition to resolution, but the show is also only thirty minutes long, so some narrative shortcutting is excusable. Although the acting and directing seems almost professional, the writing is slightly amateurish pertaining to deeper literary ideals. The piece does not really mean anything underneath the surface, and most jokes come not from word play or circumstance, but from tropes. However, what Major does, it does well. It is a very impressive piece stemming from youth.

Storytelling World Honors winner Regina Ress weaves a collection of beautiful stories together in Compassion, Generosity, and Grace: Stories from 9/11. By focusing on aspects of community and passion within victims, Ress uses the tragedy of 9/11 to create a heartwarming verbal collage, each with a common thread. She combines folk tales, informal chats, and years and years of experience into a remarkable tale of the lightness in the human heart. Her reach expands world-wide, telling of a mountain top culture who wants to understand others’ pain, yet also of teachers comforting displaced children at a middle school. Compassion, Generosity, and Grace demonstrates the richness of human community and society in the wake of devastation.

The Murder of Gonzago, written and directed by Alan Irvine, depicts a tale of revenge gone wrong. Based on the meta-play in Hamlet, The Murder of Gonzago is a silly but comedic romp through some Shakespeare archetypes. Like Hamlet, a nephew (Jared LoAlbo) attempts to murder his uncle (Michael Mykita), but in this case the impetus is not revenge. Rather, the tragic hero is trying to pay off debts. Unlike Shakespeare, the plot is fueled on the stupidity of the main characters instead of societal quandaries or treachery. Actually, the main character is pretty unlikeable. What makes The Murder of Gonzago good is the interplay between minor characters. Adam Rutledge’s Detective D’Berry is the best written and acted in the show, with Dylan Mahaffey’s Toby coming close in the writing department. The show, although set up like a tragedy, really falls underneath a comedy mostly because of the difficulty of attaching to any of the serious characters. The play shines the light hearted bits like the prequel 5 Conversations. And a Bear. The entirety of that piece relies on comedic relief through short ursine related attack scenes. This creates a goofy atmosphere that emanates humor. When this occurs, both plays are at home.

Resurrection by Hudson Rush is an interactive art exhibit focused on the release of regrets and the self-affirming effects of visual art. The piece features meditation during a chalk outline of the participant’s body, aimed at symbolizing the death of the past. Resurrection creates a take away piece to be hung on a wall, displaying one’s past self, and the droll mortality of a persona.

Day 3 of my Fringe Festival experience: coming soon!