It is apropos, perhaps, that when entering the Artist’s Image Resource, I was tantalized by phenomenally raw pieces crafted by artists of varying levels of experience that lined the wall. The images, by and large, captured the aching and angry sentiments surrounding the current state of things—paintings of distorted American flags; screen prints of Trump in all his pompous vainglory; graphics of an outraged cat projected on a Soviet Crest. These images bore auguries of the shows I was about to see all day, more presciently than I may have guessed in my frazzled, Saturday morning state. The most interpretative show of the line up was indeed the first, The Seven Suitcases of a Snake Oil Salesman. Given my religious schooling, I was both incredibly anxious and intrigued by the prospect of witnessing a rendering of the snake oil peddler that exists in the mythology of the Southern zealous consciousness. O’Ryan the O’Mazing, or as it may or may not say on his birth certificate, O’Ryan McGowan, is a striking man and personality—lanky; nimble yet rambunctious; physically boisterous, yet rickety in certain ways; ostentatious yet vulnerable. He opens the show by addressing the historical context and background of the snake oil salesman—that it originated in theft and deceit. O’Ryan explains that Americans stole the concept from Chinese laborers working to construct all of America’s railroads. He displays the double ignominy of the exploitation of the culture and the practices of the individuals used for slave labor to create an inauthentic commodity to pander to small-town, religious zealots. This is the compelling construct of O’Ryan’s show—he meticulously works to display different types and layers of chicanery, meretricious guile and outright deceit as he opens and unpacks each of his suitcases. As a parallel to this, he performs various physical feats of escalating danger—magic tricks, juggling, throwing knives—to underscore the perilousness of the depth of deceit. O’Ryan is at his best when he divulges his own personal untruthfulness—his history of breaking into homes, creating false identities, lying to friends etc. It is those moments where the rambunctious arrogance of O’Ryan’s show subsides and reveals something vulnerable, aching. By the time O’Ryan concludes the show to crawl into his final suitcase, allowing deceit to encompass him, we are blissfully disrupted with our own relationship to “truth.”
I did not anticipate that my Saturday would involve witnessing a moment of oral sex between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. But I did not know what I was getting into when I trundled to the basement of Alphabet City. The setting was intimate—a few seats in a bunker-esque room, in which the audience was situated with extreme closeness. A woman is sprawled across a couch, watching news with dismay on a large screen television. Strewn around the couch and on the coffee table are countless bottles of whiskey, wine, beer etc. and junk food paraphernalia of all sorts. The woman on the couch was besotted in a pink bathrobe that she appeared to have not shorn in ages. As the show begins, the woman answers a phone, and through pieces of the conversation, it is revealed that this blonde-wigged, bedraggled woman is Hillary Clinton. As the conversation proceeds, a beautiful buxom woman enters the room, dangling a cigarette, glancing admonishingly at the wreckage of Hillary Clinton’s surroundings. This woman, we discover, is Eva Peron, famed former First Lady of Argentina. As she sumptuously engages in a tet-a-tet with Hillary, we understand that she has scheduled the meeting to critique Hillary on her likeability factor and the reasons behind her loss. Though the piece veers on gimmicky at times, with the show relying on the normal foibles of Hillary caricatures, the dynamic between the unlikely duo, particularly two women who are so historically stereotyped and given characteristics outside of their own control, is stellar. The energy between the two leading women, from the Tardigrade Theatricals Company, is electric, particularly when they break the fourth wall and engage with the audience, and their performances riveting. When the flawless Trump impersonator enters the stage, the logic and cohesiveness falls apart a bit, though the show is no less amusing. And then, of course, there is the Trump cunnilingus moment. While it is a bit tacky in how it borders on non-consensual, the moment is curiosity piquing and thought provoking, to say the least. The show is a success not so much in humanizing Hillary, but in demonstrating the superficiality that underscored the election and ultimately catalyzed the pickle we’re all in.
I admittedly always have some trepidations going into an improv comedy show. Having done improv and comparable forms of comedy as a theatre kid, I know the anxiety, the mechanisms of delivery, the tension that can be palpable throughout a performance. I allow myself to feel a great deal of anxiety for the performers and for the audience that often taints my experience. That being said, That Really Funny Improv Show, put on by Awkward Attic Ensemble, was a welcoming and enjoyable experience. While the troupe certainly had moments of the awkward shifting and uncertain bits, it made the comical moments that much stronger. The troupe efficaciously enacted both long and short form improv, and truly shined in their short form, game/sketch-based moments. The dynamic between and rapport between the group was electric and in no-way combative, and certainly the highlight of the show was the uproarious “My Dick” segment, in which the troupe took audience suggestions of things to compare their phalluses to. The best? Perhaps the parallels between their dicks and weedeaters. Obviously.
One of the most harrowing viewing experiences of Fringe was, perhaps, The Principle. Resonating acutely with the looming anti-Trump, anti-regulatory sentiments that had been pulsating throughout the tenor of the shows all day, The Principle, set in a not-so-unfathomable dystopian cell at a queer conversion camp, bellows with the fear and dread dramaturgical art is so magisterially able to convey. The play centers around two people, one gay man and one trans man whose female-to-male transition was cruelly halted and reversed when he was put in the conversion camp, who are forced into a cell together to have heterosexual intercourse. The characters reveal ghastly glimpses of their diagnosis/conversion processes—masturbating in front of a psychologist; being forced to change their names to something more befitting heteronormativity; alienation from their loved ones—and hint at what made them happy before they were forced into their current conditions. The play is not only gut-wrenching in demonstrating the normalized agonies of being queer or trans, but is also hauntingly exquisite in showing the defiance of those who refuse to accept tyranny of ideas, of bodies, of selfhoods. It is a true triumph of short-form theatre.