Note From Jon


Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Don't Push Buttons on Turtles' Bellies

Next year could be interesting. So far I’ve about doubled my attendance at Fringe shows each year of the festival, from three to five to ten. The madness will have to end though as I’m on pace to see all hundred or so shows by 2011… unless the festival keeps growing—not unlike Telly the Turtle in Prototype 373-G. Telly began as a tiny turtle transported in a leftover Lo Mein box… and ended the play as a stage-filling Tortuga bent on world domination. That’s basically what my Fringe experience was like this year…

It started out all fun and innocent with the funtastic I Like Nuts! (the musical) and Love in the Time of GPS in Ball & Chain. Then somewhere between Through the Looking Glass and Power House: The Disco Energy Dance Along Show things got a little strange—just like when the protagonist in Prototype 373-G, Belly, finds a button on Telly the turtle’s tummy (you know the button that unleashes the evil—and hilarious—space turtle Shiggles, and gives him mind-control powers over Belly... who then becomes an interesting “Tube of Flesh” to pave the way for total-tortuga-domination, by readying her apartment for her insemination at the hands tail (I think) of Shiggles; He likes to munch on leafy greens during coitus, so in preparation Belly’s apartment is soon filled with plants, giant bowls of salad etc.… and an ever expanding Telly the turtle who Shiggles will eventually inhabit.) So yeah, it’s sort of like by going to Power House I unknowingly pushed a button that triggered me to become obsessed with Fringe shows and they took over my life this weekend (though hopefully without all of the insemination and turtle-takeover parallels). Well, something possessed me to see six more shows from Friday to Sunday.

Suddenly everything about my life related to Fringe, thanks to the next show I saw: Tales of Doomed Love. Tales and the next show Children of Medea each had links to the story of Medea, as did Argonautika from a few months ago. Tales also retold part of the Oresteia which I saw recently by Constellation Theatre… with the actress from Tales. Finally, Tales had the story of Tristan and Isolde which I was relieved to have no connection to… until it was the topic of a lecture I heard on Saturday! Tales definitely wins the award for most connections, but I wasn’t in love with the show. I found it most compelling when both actors were interacting to tell a story… unfortunately that only happened in one of the five tales.

The connections weren’t finished after Tales though, they kept going with Children of Medea which was the best (if not fringiest) piece that I have ever seen at Fringe. Among those connections:

  • Recurring scenes set in Wonderland (just like Sunday’s Through the Looking Glass), including a memorable scene where Alice meets the March Hare…a character I played in High School
  • I saw my favorite Fringe shows alone since Darren had opted out of both Nuts and Children of Medea… and would do so again the next day with another favorite, Gilgamesh (no protest by me since I’d picked up the trend and knew it would be good!)
  • Darren and I always check our programs for artists whose credits include our favorite TV show, The Wire. Since it was filmed in Baltimore nearly every show we see includes someone (although no one we ever recognize). Medea did not. However, in the audience for Medea was none other than Delaney Williams who plays McNaulty’s boss Sergeant Jay in all five seasons of The Wire. Now I knew Darren would be pissed he hadn’t stayed!

Friday’s final show Lebensraum was good, and the fact I don’t have more to say about it is not a reflection on Lebensraum but rather just how amazing four other shows I saw this weekend were. Children of Medea was the first of the four and was the clear winner for me… until I saw the next three. Now it’s all muddled again. Gilgamesh for example is exactly what I go to the Fringe festival hoping to see: An ensemble show like my high school theatre teacher Mr. Maiden used to take to the one-act competitions. I loved the rhythms the ensemble pounded out during the fight sequence, the interactions between the actors and the projected shadows, and learning about lacunae (gaps in a manuscript such as the epic of Gilgamesh… or detail about Lebensraum and Power House in this blog post).

Sunday broke the curse and I closed the Fringe out with two more fantastic shows… this time with Darren in attendance! We saw back-to-back shows at the Source Theatre: Prototype 373-G and Born Normal. In addition to having the best costumes of any Fringe show (and just about any other show I can think of) Prototype also included a reference to some of my favorite books growing up: The Choose Your Own Adventure series. The characters had a game of taking turns reading the adventures to each other and swapping when one’s choice led to death… unless they died on the very first decision which would trigger the controversial “Too Young To Die” rule!

  • If you decide to read more about Prototype 373-G, turn to page 1.
  • If you decide to read more about Born Normal, turn to the next page.

If I thought I was all laughed out after Prototype 373-G (and I should have been) I was quite wrong. There were still some connections to be revealed as well such as:

  • Both shows featured new kinds (well names at least) of cancer: Ass cancer in Prototype and Wing cancer in Born Normal.
  • Sitting down in Prototype 373-G I joked with Darren about whether there were any Wire cast members in THAT audience (he was, as expected, bitter to have missed Delany Williams on Friday). I turned around jokingly to scan the audience… and of course, Mr. Williams was once again in attendance!
  • Not only that but between shows we went to St. Ex where we met a chatty drunk woman who was there with her gay husband and his gay friends (no typos in there, just a unique woman). And while she was not at all interested in theatre (making snoring noises each time we discussed shows with a Fringe volunteer who we also met at the bar) her friends did seem to know Delaney Williams who came in for drinks as well!
  • The connections also led to a new friendship with Fringe volunteer Elizabeth at the bar who: gave us our tickets at Prototype, had been in the audience of Children of Medea with me, also had tickets to Born Normal, and is moving just down the street in September.

Oh yeah, I was talking about Born Normal; In which most of the characters are not born normal:

  • There’s the mother with wings
  • The older sister who can heal animals—provided they a) died of natural causes and b) are under 18 pounds, leading to such lines as “I’ve got a stack of parakeets in the corner I’ve been meaning to get to”
  • Younger brother Martin who’s born able to talk and therefore able to answer his mother’s question about his gender: “While I lack the manual dexterity to fully investigate the matter, I believe I am a boy”
  • And Sunshine… whose name might be a bit too “on the nose” as the mother would say since it is just a burning glow within swaddling clothes

And then there is daughter Jane who actually is born normal. It’s hard to say if I was more impressed with the cast’s acting which was, along with Medea’s Sue Jin Song and Prototype’s Hugh Nees, the most impressive of the festival (well my 10 show sampling of the festival), or the script which was written by Stephen Spotswood who is an MFA candidate at Catholic University. I will definitely be on the lookout for more work by all of them, although with 12 shows in 10 days (including Not the Messiah! at Wolf Trap and my sister Mimsi's terrific turn as Frog in Frog and Toad) I am officially going to take a break from theatre… for at least a week.

Notes to Jon:

  • If I hope to get to 20 shows next year I will need them to add shows back on Monday and Tuesday nights, which they took away this year (my biggest disappointment with the festival)
  • Supposedly my Fringe button is good for discounts at local eateries all year long and not just all festival long (I’ll let you know when I test that)
  • I walked up and purchased tickets to all three shows on Friday (despite rave reviews for Children of Medea) and Gilgamesh on Saturday night, but found many times that I wished I could have changed the tickets that I had already allocated from my 10-ticket passes. So my lesson for next year is to risk the sell outs and allocate the tickets from the passes on the day of the show (and frankly after I’ve read some reviews).
  • If I’m ever pulled on stage at the end of Power House, refuse to dance until they try “Contingency Plan 10” on me (aka seducing the dancer into continuing to produce energy). Other than "Contingency Plan 10", the highlight of the show was the Dharma-initiative-esque video in the beginning explaining how they now breed humans who can dance longer so as to generate energy… from the seismic energy produced by the feet, thermodynamic energy from body heat, and hydroelectric energy from collecting sweat (lovely)
  • Drama is harder to pull off than comedy (probably because it requires the audience to be fully invested) but Berlin in Ball & Chain and Children of Medea nailed it
  • Great comedy is still a hell of a lot of fun to go see and I Like Nuts, Love in the Time of GPS in Ball & Chain, Prototype 373-G, and Born Normal were all exceptional comedies
  • I’ll never think of the March Hare the same again after Children of Medea. My portrayal in high school was G Rated. Whereas Sue Jin Song’s NC-17 March Hare sung “You put the right ear in, you pull the right ear out… you put both ears in” etc. Quite the naughty hare.
  • Medea also contained other favorite scenes about expectations on children, where “Alice” has a nightmare in Wonderland about the SAT and is running across a giant scantron trying not to be sucked into the reader, and how parents named their children Yale, Princeton, and Harvard… and their fourth kid Bob. Sue Jin Song was at her strongest when switching into the character of Julie Ann, who was her family’s “Bob”.
  • I wish Darren got to see Gilgamesh, because it was like the theatre we did in high school, but also because it included the story of Shhh… or how The Flood was sent because humans talked so loud they woke the gods.

  • Most of the embedded photos are from the Fringe's official Photo blog and clicking on them will link to the photo blog for that play.
  • Go see any show with costumes done by the Crafts Action League. It’s tough for costumes to steal a show as good as Prototype 373-G but they nearly did: from the green dresses Belly wore, to the green underwear everyone wore, to the pull off shirt-pants-and-tie worn over identical shirt, pants, and tie, to the leafy green costumes of the ensemble in one scene, and most importantly to the turtle costumes of Shiggles and the ever expanding Telly—who at the very end got to be nearly as big as this blog entry… somebody get the water

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