Monday, August 20, 2007

Jimmy's Fringe Roundup

I've finished reviewing the Fringe plays I needed to review for Martin (...Double Vision, Len and Ernest and On Air Off!), so I spent this weekend seeing three plays by buds o' mine, all of which I found fun and enjoyable.

The first one was Mr. Mac Rogers's Hail Satan, a story about a cowardly milquetoast, Tom, who joins a company where all his co-workers are honest-to-gosh worshippers of the Cloven One. Through a series of truly bizarre events, Tom ends up being caretaker and surrogate father to the Devil Incarnate, a girl named Angie.

Hail Satan made my "Top Ten" list for 2004 when Gideon Productions staged it at ManhattanTheatreSource. This is the second time I've gone to see ostensibly the same production of a play after it's been remounted (the first being Vampire Cowboys's Living Dead in Denmark).

With only some slight variations on the casting (Mac passes the torch on acting duties as Tom to Matthew Kinney, who played a different role in the 2004 production) and to the show itself (this version is again directed by Jordana Williams), I still stand by my original assessment that this is an extremely well-crafted funny and scary play that offers its audience more "meat" than most Off-off shows. It assumes its audience consists of intelligent adults (honestly, I've found this trait within Off-off theatre to be more and more rare).

The show I saw had a slightly more flippant tone (Mac's girlfriend, Sandy, pointed out that this was even an anomaly for the current run), going a little more for the laughs than when I saw it in 2004. I'm not saying this is good or bad, nor am I saying this production didn't succeed in making me feel squeamish and queasy, it's just something I noticed seeing Hail Satan the second time around.

I'm also really pleased to see that Sean Williams and Laura Perloe have reprised their roles as Charlie, the boss and head of the cult and Angie respectively. They play their parts with pitch-perfect precision, at this point making me find it difficult to picture those roles played by anyone else.

Rather than get into the details of my thoughts and feelings on Hail Satan again, you can read my online dialogue with Mac about the first production online here (just to warn you: it's very long).

I think the script very much succeeds in tapping into fears (of parenthood, of responsibility, of sudden changes within people's personalities) that are common not only to Mac himself, but I'm sure with many people in the audience (myself included), hence me finding it a successful "horror" play.

* * *

On Saturday, I went to see Adam Szymkowicz's latest, Susan Gets Some Play, a very funny 40-minute meta-comedy play-within-a-play about, well, actress Susan Louise O'Connor trying to find a boyfriend (or at least a romp in the hey). It's as simple as that., it's not really as simple as that.

Susan and her best friend Jay try to find Susan a boyfriend by holding auditions for an imaginary production in hopes of finding Mr. Right; or at the very least, a date or make-out session. They end up auditioning as many people as they can, including a "guest celebrity" and people from the audience. Hell, the usher even gave out raffle tickets for the chance to win a date with Susan (alas, I didn't win).

Ultimately, Susan isn't wild about this duplicitous process of finding a boyfriend (in one scene, she admits to having asked Szymkowicz to write this play for her, but now she feels cheap and on display), and is even less wild about all her co-stars milking their make-out scenes with her.

To quote Monty Python: It's silly.

There are multiple in-jokes with this show, including references to Szymkowicz's earlier work (there's a scene deliberately mimicking the New York production of Nerve), as well as jokes on insufferably self-referential New York theatre and the ignorance non-theatre-makers have on the process of putting on a play in the city (my molars would grind when a character would refer to the auditions as "play practice," which I'm sure was intended).

And oh yes, there's a cool non sequitur song and dance number to boot.

That Susan Gets Some Play doesn't take itself too seriously and doesn't alienate the audience with the numerous in-jokes (most of them are either fairly inclusive or not distracting enough to be jarring) makes it work. It's incredibly slight run-time (under an hour) doesn't hurt, either.

With the help of the cast Moritz von Stuelpnagel's direction, Susan Gets Some Play is thoroughly unapologetic with its simple yet whimsical premise, which is one of the main reasons why this show is so light and enjoyable.

* * *

Finally, Sunday was when I went to go see Nosedive Central member Anna Kull and Justin Perkins's show, Dressing Miss Julie, a campy riff on August Strindberg's play on class, gender warfare, and upward mobility (or the lack thereof), Miss Julie.

The premise for Dressing Miss Julie is this: while the two actors play Miss Julie (that's been rewritten to include modern references to other plays), there are two giant bells in the audience, that said audience has an opportunity to ring at any point in the show. Whenever an audience member rings one of the bells, the actors stop, remove their clothes, switch them, and resume the show where they left off, playing the opposite roles.

The idea for doing this is to play with the idea that not only is class interchangeable, but also gender. I'm not sure how seriously we in the audience are supposed to take this premise by watching Dressing Miss Julie, as the role-changing seems to be more of an entertaining device rather than a philosophical thinking point. But in the end it doesn't matter: this show is a whole lot of fun.

While watching Dressing Miss Julie, a funny thing happened. I realized I didn't care one bit for Jean or Miss Julie's problems, regardless of who was playing which part. I was paying attention to the differences in how Justin and Anna would play each role, watching how they would immediately dive into each part and pick up where they left off whenever the bell would ring. I noticed how much the two actors resembled paper dress-up dolls, smiling and dancing in their underwear, as they would change roles.

I also kept checking the time, not out of boredom or restlessness, but because at the beginning of the show, Anna and Justin point out that they have the space for 70 minutes, meaning that, whatever point they're at in the script, after 70 minutes, they would have to stop. They mention this because, although the audience is welcome to ring the bell as many times as it wants, any more chimes than 10 puts the show at risk of going over the 70 minute mark. Fortunately, the day I saw Dressing Miss Julie, they got all the way to the end.

* * *

Anyway, I'm still hoping to catch a few more shows at the Fringe this week, although looking at my schedule, it's pretty much a crapshoot.

Lurking on the Fringes,

James "Sexy Lecher" Comtois

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