The final day of Fringe started, admittedly, with a bit of delirium. Fatigued, processing all the mini-dramaturgical moments from the past two days, I was a bit beleaguered re-entering the Alphabet City bookstore, now on the sun-soaked top floor, ensconced in bookshelves. I wasn’t entirely certain what to anticipate going into Penelope’s Dragon, a kid-friendly puppet-romp from a troupe out of my home state of Virginia. Perhaps it was my fatigue, or the right amount of soothing warm sunlight, but I was able to find the play pretty enjoyable, even chuckle-worthy at time. Penelope’s Dragon was predicated on bestiality, so I really admired the audacity in presenting it as a children’s production. The story centers around a kingdom where dragons and other winged beasts of that variety are strictly forbidden by the queen. However, unbeknownst to the rather buffoonish denizens of the kingdom, not one but two dragons dwell in the kingdom. The larger of the two is the titular dragon, and rather than being a pet (although, perhaps a pet of sorts) he is dating Penelope, much to the terror and repulsion of her father and members of the kingdom. Though there are some awkward moments and transitions and unresolved storylines, the songs and the hysterics of the foppish knight are truly the highlights of the show.
It was ideal that the day started with some bizarre, puppeteer-driven levity, as the remainder of the day at Fringe was the heaviest-hitting and most emotionally-fraught. Moreover, it was the strongest assemblage of shows I had the privilege of viewing. My final evening started with a show so hauntingly visceral, it is hard to adequately convey the phenomenon of watching the show put forth by Pittsburgh’s always exquisite Cup-A-Jo productions. Teeth and Sinew begins with a woman intricately and passionately dancing as another woman narrates from off-stage. We understand that the woman is rhythmically and bodily conveying the narration of the unseen woman, a story of burgeoning, awkward, maybe unintended romance. As the dancing and narrative go on, two black-clad individuals, a man and a woman, stand behind the dancing woman and begin to purposefully paint with their hands onto a canvass. This is the masterful trifecta that enraptures the audience—part dance, part painting-in-motion, part storytelling. Each part of this dynamic is developed and fascinating in its own rite, but when functioning as a cohesive unit to express one woman’s story and one romance’s disintegration into acrimony, contempt and eventual violence. As the emotions become more complicated and tempestuous, the dancing, which alternates between three women for three different stages of the narrator’s life, becomes more frenzied (though never out of control) and more breathless. The painting too becomes more feverish. The eventual product leaves the audience exhausted and ravished, and I was blissfully overwhelmed with what I had experienced in a few short moments of performance.
Fascinatingly, I jumped from this show to the intriguingly titled Chronic Single’s Handbook. Created by author and performer Randy Ross, the show, allegedly fictional (or at least for the most part) centers around a neurotic, recently unemployed mid-life crisis caricature as he blows all of his money on a multi-national trip to find himself. A one man-show, the play unfolds with an intermingling of first person narration and interpretative acting out of the various, surreal or just uncomfortable encounters Randy experiences. Though often offensive, generally in no way, shape or form P.C. and borderline, if not explicitly, misogynistic, the vignettes acted out are compelling and amusing (in a guilty sort of way) and the cohesion of the show is flawless. Moreover, Ross is himself a meticulous and seasoned performer, and no moment of the show seems unpolished or misplaced. But one can only hear so many off-color Thai accents before one gets a bit uncomfortable.
Given the raunchiness and satire of the preceding show, I was caught completely unaware of the intensity of my last show of the evening, Love Stories. Produced by Laugh/Riot Performing Arts Company out of Edinboro University, the show is a collection of stories and moments that evoke the multifarious, and often problematic, forms of love, desire, seduction and need. The show opens with a difficult to approach piece: a schoolteacher is caught on tape raping a twelve-year-old student and is confronted by his superintendent. The performances are flawless and as unpleasantly nuanced and painful as one might anticipate. Having started the day the way I did, this was both a horrifying and utterly fascinating piece to watch. The show proceeded with this same unflinching commitment to showing the complexities of our impulses and behavior. Perhaps my favorite bit, for a myriad of reasons, was the second story chronicling a man’s aghast realization this the dancing his PhD-candidate girlfriend did for tuition money was, in fact, stripping, as she is the hired dancer for his friend’s bachelor soiree. This particular story perfectly encapsulates the furious and even hilarious awkwardness of this scenario, and even though the final moments are enraging, the performances allow for a certain fondness to be held throughout. A compelling array of sensations and emotional registries, this was the ideal way to end a multifaceted, emotionally charging three day haul.