Bonnie and Clementine (on Their Way to the Grand Canyon, Explore the Limits of the Dramatic Form) relies on straight man comedy to produce a funny, strange, and satisfying show that breaks the fourth wall and explores dramatic tropes. Shannon Reed’s writing in the first story is superb, perfectly utilizing a skeptical straight man as a foil to a zany, out of touch protagonist. The true beauty of the show comes out when the audience forgets about the dramatic form limitations and starts suspending disbelieve. Perhaps this is a self-referential allegory. When the show sheds its humor, it becomes a symbolic masterpiece. Welcome to Your Life, on the other hand does not quite get there. Both characters are well acted, and the plot revolves around the unknown rather than exploration of tropes. The follow up to Bonnie and Clementine stops short because there is no symbolic breaking point, no subtle shift from comedy into drama. The whole piece leans from one side to the other until it ends without a satisfying resolution. Both pieces are directed well, and both are generally entertaining, but Bonnie and Clementine beats Welcome to Your Life in terms of writing.
Brandy Loyal: Disposable Pop Star Illuminati Robot is the second of two shows on Sunday that had ridiculously long titles. Although billed as a “campy, satirical, modern pop musical” in the fringe program, it basically amounts to spoken word poetry to a few pop beats. It starts strongly, with a song introducing the pop star robot and including the audience chanting to the beat, much like at a concert. This song is very fun. Afterwards, most of this audience participation dies out, and so does the show. The poetry was not bad by any means, but the narrative that strung each poem together was nonexistent. In the end, the piece satirizes how Americans know nothing about America, but how it gets there is still hard to say. Keep it fun, then hit the audience with the dark stuff.
Bedtime Stories from Laugh/Riot Performing Arts Company, hits hard or misses. It is a collection of short stories revolving around nighttime and mortality (a common thread in the Fringe Fest this year). Each story is self-contained, with no overlap other than theme. The acting is very inconsistent, much like the whole show. Every actor has ups and downs, but there is not one actor who does not succeed spectacularly at some point. The piece is totally engrossing and interesting, with every story approaching thought provoking subject matter. It opens with a couple discussing the apparent uselessness of life through moral-less stories. A pizza delivery gone wrong turns into the best executed scene of the show, while a macho display of violence morphs into necrophilia in one of the lesser scenes. Still, each scene imparts the audience a sense of fleeting life and how the small adventures make it worthwhile.
Beltane delivers a surprisingly apt musical improv session to Pittsburgh Fringe. Fabricating a musical out of nothing but audience suggestions, Beltane is literally a once in a life time experience. The actors of local improv group Always B Sharp and the Steel City Improv do an incredible job off the top of their heads. Of course there is not going to be Broadway level writing, but they make do with what they have in an incredibly entertaining way.
Intentional Icing is a tasteful, complex story about feminism and sports. Written by C.S. Wyatt, the Pittsburgh original never fails to entertain. Jo Bulloch (Cindy Jackson), the first woman to play on a minor league hockey team, makes headway into advancing her career after a young fashion journalist (Minda Briley) prompts a recovering champion to assist her. The piece deals with sexism, fandom, and pride incredibly tactfully. Each actor does a wonderful job, engaging the audience without scaring anybody away. Tyson Sears as Robby Rowan encapsulates the pompousness of a star athlete, and Cindy Jackson as Jo Bulloch paints a very unconventional female athlete. The entirety of the play is engrossing, with its message not taking precedence over plot.
Bortle 8 by Chris Davis is the result of putting David Sedaris, William S. Burroughs, and Ray Bradbury in a blender and serving the residue as a Jell-O shot. Davis magnificently blends sincerity with symbolism, the absurd with the practical in a one man show about self-discovery in darkness. The piece consists of three parts: an intimate exposition, a two character romp through the cosmos, and a beat-worthy dark piece of stream of consciousness. The exposition proves Davis’ extreme affability and charm, while the meat of the plot lies in Davis’ surreal journey with God-like John Bortle. Yet, the finale causes evacuation of oxygen from the human body. Davis ties every symbol, every motif of his hour long monologue into one Poe-meets-Kerouac poetic explosion. Bortle 8 leaves the audience looking inside themselves in one fringe-worthy burst of personality and professional storytelling.