Day 3 of Fringe was my marathon day, in which I attempted a feat only dreamed of before. Five shows in one day! I did it, with the help of food trucks, coffee, $3 cocktails, and a brief nap in my car.
Having learned from the previous day’s mad rush, I arrived early for my first show. The helpful volunteers got me all checked in, and when the time came, led me downstairs for TENTACLES, from Voyage Theater Company. TENTACLES takes the form of a thesis presentation by Tessa (played by Tessa Flannery, who also wrote the show) studying the ravishment fantasies of an “anonymous subject” and attempting to reconcile them with her feminism.
The lecture is interrupted consistently. At first by the speaker/subject’s own fantasies, cutaway scenes lit in red that Tessa then sheepishly recovers from, and then by a spectator. We eventually learn that Chris (portrayed by Chris Fayne), was invited by Tessa to watch her presentation. But the Shakespearian actor-turned-porn star, who she had secret fantasies about during their college years, takes it upon himself to set the record straight on aspects of her thesis that he disagrees with. A good chunk of the crowd I was in didn’t realize at first that Chris was part of the show, so I got to enjoy people grumbling at him for heckling until his interjections escalated enough that he was clearly a cast member.
Despite being framed as a literal lecture, Flannery’s writing does a great job of raising the issues of the #metoo movement in a way that feels natural to the story and the characters. Chris’ interruptions are played for laughs until they aren’t, underscoring that Tessa has the final say in where the line is drawn. With great writing and acting throughout, this was a definite highlight of the weekend.
After a quick bounce upstairs and a few minutes of writing, I headed back to the St. Mary’s basement for No Oddjob, David Lawson’s one-man show about video games, and their impact on his life. I’ve spent a fair amount of time at sci-fi/comic/anime conventions that feature nerd stand-up, and too often the routines boil down to “here’s a reference, laugh if you get it!” so I was a little cautious about this show. But Lawson’s performance is more than that. As an examination of what kind of influence games can have on those who play them, the show follows Lawson through his youth and into adulthood. At each stage, he discusses the games he played, how he saw them, and how others reacted to them, whether that means parents, employers, or the government. The games are always central to the narrative, but the story is his.
Lawson’s primary focus is the perennial argument over violence in video games, resurrected once again by President Trump, and he argues that while games can inspire people, they don’t create monsters. It’s a point he makes well, but I think the show’s scope could be expanded. Every time he referred to “the next big controversy” I was expecting him to address the gamergate blow-up from a few years ago that focused not on violence but sexism in the gaming community. With his history and perspective, I think it would be interesting to hear Lawson’s take on that issue as well.
Next on the agenda was Show Up, Peter Michael Marino’s improvised solo comedy. I thought this show was impressive as hell. In the course of an initial dialogue with the audience that Marino points out is mostly scripted on his end, he collects topics from the audience in several categories (Childhood, Addiction, Love Life, Job, etc…) and assigns the roles of Stage Manager and Sound Technician to two attendees. And that’s when the show kicks off in earnest. Using the props set out by the Stage Manager and a musical cure from the sound person to set each scene, Marino improvises a personal narrative that incorporates all of the topics suggested by the audience.
This is a task that could easily go off the rails, but Marino managed to put together a consistently funny and mostly coherent one-man show relating the life of Pedro, a shoemaker’s son who went on to co-found Moe’s Southwest Grill with a surprising amount of murder along the way. (That was my fault, actually. My weird family story involved murder.) According to the website showuptheshow.com, he will be performing a kids’ version of Show Up in New York City in May, which I assume will probably be dropping the “Addiction” category. So tell any of your family members back east who have reproduced in the last decade or so to check it out!
For my last stop downstairs, I saw Are You There Margaret? It’s Me, God! Based on the classic Judy Blume novel (which I should admit I haven’t read), Rude Cutlet Theater Company’s show features the long-awaited responses from God to Margaret’s repeated entreaties. God is mostly unsympathetic, which isn’t surprising, because maaaaaaaaaaaaan is Margaret an odd duck. The only-slightly-exaggerated excerpts from the novel that comprise Margaret’s dialogue mostly center on how much she wants a bra, to have her period, and to be ogled by an attractive teacher. God responds by pointing out how strange and problematic all of this is, and that we really shouldn’t have kids read this book anymore.
Writer/performers Dana Leahy and Emily Askin have a good concept for the show, but the jokes are pretty hit-or-miss. The best parts of Are You There Margaret?, as part of a larger comedy show, would be a great act. But as a full one-hour performance, it seems a little padded.
Ian Insect’s It Sounded Like A Good Idea In My Dreams is exactly the kind of madness I come to Fringe to see. An absurdist comedy revue, everything about this performance adds to the overall effect, even though none of them seem very closely related. Even before the show starts, you’re greeted by a surly usher who informs you that smoking is not permitted in the show while holding a cigarette. A sign at the front declares that laughter is only permitted when the red light is on. The performance is broken into two acts containing monologues, sketches, and songs, split up by an intermission that’s actually a sketch of its own, and parody ad videos from sponsors like Green Soda and RateMyInfant.guv.
A lot of the show is built around language – the opening disclaimer is a maybe-too-long discussion of whether the show is not for everyone, not for anyone, for someone, for somebody, or not for nobody, and Act II opens with a slide show on punctuation. Ian Insect wants you to think about what’s being said, and how. And he also wants you to feel a little uncomfortable while you’re doing that. Little things throughout add up to a sense that things aren’t going exactly as planned – the usher’s constant haranguing of the audience, the panicked writers’ meeting at intermission, the consistent technical errors when the ads play, a not quite long enough microphone cable. It all creates an atmosphere that contributes to the dreamlike, disassociated structure of the play.
This was also the perfect show to end on, in the final moments, as Ian Insect lay awkwardly (and unless I’m mistaken, creepily unblinking) on the ground amid the scattered salad and props that had been left untouched since Act I and Ann Usher yelled at us to leave (“We can’t go home until you’re gone! GO!”), the Fringe volunteers packing up the table and curtains in the background felt like part of the show. I hope I didn’t miss a Marvel-style after-credits scene, but I took the hint and walked off to the afterparty. Good Fringe.
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