On Sunday, I walked into St. Mary’s Lyceum and past the small bar to the banquet space in the back that would be the venue for all three of my shows that evening. As I entered, I recognized the familiar sound of old Loony Toons scores playing over the speakers. This began to set the mood for 5 Hams Fairy Tales by Thoreau, NM. The sketch comedy production included retellings of classic stories such as Hansel and Gretel and Snow White and a segment of “groaner” jokes that those well versed in the internet may call “dad jokes”. Woven into the classic stories was topical humor such as Hansel and Gretel not quite being the small children we are familiar with, but MBA graduates still living with their parents. The rendition of Snow White was derailed by a cast member who goes on a tangent about the stereotyping of blended families and stepmothers, only to retell the story in which Snow White was actually a vampire with a pack of small zombie groupies. The troupe even ventured out to engage the audience; I alone having my shoe untied, bag stolen and my heart cut out (I was the wild boar) during the performance.
The second show of the evening, A Dream of Midsummer, brought a cast of familiar faces as members of Brawling Bard Theater took the stage. Last year, I was able to catch both their street performance of 5 Conversations and a Bear as well as The Murder of Gonzago and knew that we were in for romp. The show opened with the members storming onto the stage, apologizing for being late and explaining they had prepared to put on the wrong play. The show had already begun and was a farcical adventure of a production company trying to improvise their way through a show with the cast and props they had to work with. The show was fast paced and highly amusing as the cast juggled characters and did their best to remember and perform the classic Shakespeare play. Brawling Bard Theater always brings a very chaotic and physical style of performance to the stage in which hilarity always ensues. The use of props and puns in this show was especially amusing; a box of shredded wheat as potion and a sword fight involving a lawn spike and what appeared to be a bike horn will always be funny. My favorite moment was when in need of a dagger (to be used for suicide over love, naturally) the cast member was handed a rubber chicken that shrieked every time he drove it into his chest. The chemistry between the members of this company and the amount of fun they have performing is what made Brawling Bard Theater an easy choice for Best Ensemble.
After two topsy-turvy shows back-to-back, The Last Lifeboat, by Waynesburg University Players, was just what I needed to calm me down before heading to the awards ceremony. This show, based on the play by Luke Yankee, details the life of Thomas Ismay, the man who built the Titanic. From Ismay’s childhood and distant father, to the repercussions of the sinking of the Titanic, the story gives us short glimpses into the somber life of a man and the audience is left wondering whether he was a hero or a villain. At times the scenes came off a bit too abbreviated and left me hungry for more information about what I was witnessing but the cast did a wonderful job in their roles and limited props and scenery. I would love to see WU Players expand on this production in the future.
I left St. Mary’s invigorated, charged by the performances I had experienced that day and the energy radiated by the performers. I entered James Street Gastropub, where Dan Stiker was sporting his signature western shirt with all the fringe (or frills as I affectionately refer to them – it’s a cart/buggy sort of thing) and enjoyed a delicious IPA as the actors and volunteers mingled and waited for the awards to be presented. These are people that really enjoy making art and have fun while doing it and this is the very reason I get excited for the Fringe Festival. It is almost as if there less pressure for the companies and actors, freeing them up to express themselves more and enjoy the festival as much as the audience does. It was another fun, weird year at the Pittsburgh Fringe Festival and I am already looking forward to the next.