Saturday, July 23, 2011

Hamilton Fringe Roundup

As promised, here's a bunch of mini-reviews of the dozen shows Vicki and I attended at this week's Hamilton Fringe (still going on through tomorrow). I'm listing them in the order we saw them, but also including two sets of rankings: [Vicki's] and (mine). For rankings, 1 means "most-liked" and 12 means "least-liked" with everything else falling in between those two extremes.

An Inconvenient Truthiness [8] (8) - This was a one-woman monologue by Sharylyn Johnson on the topic of her love for comedy. She grew up obsessed with Jon Stewart even prior to his arrival on The Daily Show, and eventually added his Comedy Central peer Stephen Colbert to the mix. I found her presentation a bit uneven and its conclusion somewhat jarring, given the buildup toward it. Having said that, though, I liked it quite a bit and it obviously would've finished with a higher ranking but for the strong field it was playing among. This show actually represents the end of the "worth recommending" portion of my list and probably should've been included in my previous post on Ham Fringe.

When Harry Met Harry [5] (7) - A very entertaining one-man act starring Allan Girod from Perth, Australia. Girod's pliable face and willingness to behave ridiculously really make this worthwhile, although I found the material a little less compelling. Basically it's a day in the life of a very tightly-wound "Senior Print Specialist" in a company's print department who gets sent to an Interpersonal Development Session with some of his co-workers. Girod plays both the obsessive Harry and the session's gushing and emotive leader (Rodney?), as well as drawing in a few audience members for some good fun.

Writer's Block [7] (6) - I give this one high marks for effort and for the physicality of its actors, moreso than for acutally pulling off its central concept of four characters (A, B, C and D) in a plot-less limbo who have to derive their own purpose for being there. There are definitely some intriguing ideas presented as well as several impressive stunts, but the writer in me was left a little unsatisfied that it didn't go deeper.

Closing the Door [3] (4) - We both really enjoyed this ensemble piece (by Fringe standards!) about a man still devestated, two years later, by a breakup with a woman who really gave him very little reason to love her to begin with. The acting is good and the writing cleverly moves back and forward through time, providing little clues into the nature of the relationship as the play moves along.

Hear Nuclear Lies [12] (12) - The writeup had intrigued me: Albert Einstein returns from the dead in 2011 to warn us of the dangers of nuclear energy. Unfortunately, that description was by far the best part of this train wreck of a Fringe play. The actor in the lead role neither looked like, sounded like, acted like nor seemed to even know much of anything about Albert Einstein. The material he presented was full of errors, including such easily-avoided flaws as spelling J. Robert Oppenheimer's name wrong! "Einstein" screwed up countless lines, which is all the more impressive as he was reading most of them off a PowerPoint presentation! His foil - a woman representing a nuclear power organization - inexplicably changed sides late in the game, I guess because that's what the script called for then. As I mentioned to someone after this painful exercise in frustration was over, this wasn't just the worst play I've ever seen... it was one of the worst presentations I've ever attended, and that's saying something! We should have known something was amiss when we were the only two paying customers at the Thursday show! Sometimes word of mouth really does work, it seems.

Nicholas Wallace: Mind Reader [9] (9) - I'm not the world's biggest fan of magic / mind reading acts, but I had enjoyed the one I attended last month. This time around, I wasn't quite as engaged by Nick, who seemed to be having a bit of trouble himself, at times. Now, this was on the hottest July 21st in Hamilton's history with the air conditioning not working in the theatre, so he can probably be forgiven somewhat. However, I still wasn't impressed, and - based on her ranking - neither was Vicki.

Book Worm [2] (1) - As you can tell by our rankings, this was a highlight of the week. Singer / songwriter Corin Raymond held us spellbound for an hour as he recounted stories of growing up with his father and learning to love books with a passion few of us ever feel toward anything in our lives! Raymond's a fantastic weaver of tales, and the structure of his material was absolutely flawless. He received a well-deserved standing ovation at the end that went on for a couple minutes, and I think we only stopped because all of us wanted to hear what he had to say (the performers typically break character at the end to thank us and recommend other Fringe shows to us).

ShLong Form Improv [10] (11) - This was another poorly-attended performance and it may've suffered for it, as audience participation is obviously a major part of improv. Still, both of us noticed missed opportunities and cheats aplenty by the four performers, and in the end it really didn't live up to what we've come to expect from that particular artform by now.

Interface [6] (5) - I enjoyed this play as much for what thoughts it prompted in my own brain as for what was actually presented on the stage. The story involves a male member of a future dystopian society somehow coming in contact with a nearly-current-day female scientist who's working to perfect the world's first artificial intelligence. The two form a bond even though each is a bodiless voice to the other, although the woman believes the man is actually her suddenly self-aware AI! I was bothered a little by the conclusion's implications - which I don't think the screenwriter had thoroughly thought through - but mostly was just impressed and entertained by Interface.

Roller Derby Saved My Soul [4] (3) - We very nearly didn't go to see this one. It was former co-worker Peter Janes' recommendation - he'd actually been involved in it in some capacity - that made us scramble on the final day to fit it in. And boy, were we glad we did! Nancy Kenny both wrote and performs solo in a whirlwind portrayal of two sisters, one of them a Buffy / comic book fan and the other her younger, more assertive Roller Derbying sister. Kenny is amazing in both roles and was a joy to watch for 50 minutes. I'd make a point to see anything she appears in after this. Thanks to Mr Janes for making sure we didn't skip Roller Derby!

Dirk Darrow: NCISS [11] (10) - I almost feel bad for not liking this more, as it's at least a bold attempt: a combination magic, mind-reading, film noir detective story with audience participation thrown in! There were definitely some good laughs as Darrow stumbled his way toward solving a 1947 murder that he'd been hired to look into, but it just never quite clicked for either of us.

A Different Woman [1] (2) - You've got to love it when you go out to see a dozen performances over three nights and the last one in the bunch ends up being one of the very best! Talk about finishing on a high note! I was a little worried about this show, going in: 90 minutes long (most Fringe performances are 60 mins or less), covering a true life story from Texas in the 1920s. It had huge potential to be boring as hell, and yet it was riveting from almost the opening minute. Veronica Russell adapted the play from Gertrude Beasley's book, My First Thirty Years, in which the early 20th century former teacher lays bare the hair-raising home life she'd had to endure up to that point. Incest, bestiality and parents who hated each other highlighted the woman's upbringing, and Russell channels her in hypnotic fashion. When the lights dimmed for the final time, I was sitting on the edge of my seat, just hoping Ms. Russell would speak to us for a few moments out of character. And sure enough, she did: revealing that she was up here from New Orleans, telling us how impressed she'd been by Hamilton's festival so far, and absolutely gracious in her appraisal of what Miss Beasley had risked in writing her book (for which she would eventually be institutionalized for the remainder of her life). Definitely one of the shows not to miss!

As you can see, we had a great time at Hamilton Fringe. About our only regret was that her schedule didn't allow our buddy Susan to attend along with us, as that would've no doubt elevated it to even greater heights. Maybe next time!

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