Note From Jon


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Virile as a particularly attractive mountain lion

It’s generally a good thing when you leave a musical and find yourself singing the closing number as you exit the theatre. It can be a bit disconcerting though when that theatre is near Dupont Circle and the chorus of the song is “I like nuts! I like nuts in my mouth”. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but that’s not the attention I am looking for.

So what had me singing in the streets? I like Nuts! (the musical). The first of three Capital Fringe Festival shows I checked out this weekend. Nuts was my favorite and only a notch below last year’s favorite Cautionary Tales For Adults and the Many Adventures of Trixie Tickles. For me, Nuts was basically Trixie Tickles without the clever props and my audience crush on the lead actresses. Featuring a quest for Nutty Knowledge to secure a job in a nut factory, the cast included two angry squirrels, a pirate, a robot, and a vegan vampire—and the show was just as delightfully ridiculous as it sounds. From a staging perspective, it was one of the few shows I’ve seen that was in the round, so between laughs I was fascinated to see how they set up the blocking so the entire audience could enjoy the show (exit aisles in each corner are key). While I can’t say I gained any enlightenment (other than some useful trivia regarding legumes, drupes and seeds) I was laughing hysterically for most of the hour. That’s well worth the price of admission and probably a much healthier way to spend an hour than at Anger Therapy—which the squirrels want to start so they can share their hatred with the world.

Saturday night was Journeymen Threater’s Ball & Chain at The Universe, which as the house manager stated “is warm” and he was glad to see we had all received our “fans” (the programs) at the door (The Universe is the basement of a church without AC … and highs on Saturday topped 100°). The show was actually seven mini-shows which had been written about the theme of love and marriage, and while not all seven lived up to the caliber of the hilarious introduction by the house manager (technically I believe I recall he was Marketing Director Matt Dunphy) a couple of them more than made up for the rest. Michael Harris’ Love in the Time of GPS highlighted the humorous side of love. Illustrating what might happen if your GPS was in love with you and got jealous of the new girl—[Proceed straight for 100 yards, and drive over that pulsating red mass in the road… that is my heart]. Or if you threatened to toss the jealous GPS (which has been bitterly insulting you) right out the window and she needs to recant she might say—[You are virile as a particularly attractive mountain lion]. Admittedly I have a much higher standard for enjoying a dramatic piece than a comic one but as I failed to get drawn into some of the more dramatic mini-plays in Ball & Chain, I wondered if that standard was unrealistic… until the final piece, Emily Steel’s Berlin, restored my faith. This poignant piece juxtaposes a girl’s obsession with Berlin with the divisions—and hope for reunification—of her divorced parents. It was a simple but powerful connection. Playwrights outnumbered actors in Ball & Chain 7 to 2 and I fear that ratio may increase if they don’t get a new costume for Krista Cowan (there is a legitimate danger that The Universe will melt her in that sweater). While I still yearn for a piece to rival Journeymen’s 2006 Fringe entry Bartleby, those two sections made Ball & Chain worth enduring the heat (plus, unlike the actors, we were given fans!)

Omniumgatherum’s Through the Looking Glass rounded out the weekend. I had mixed opinions about this show. On the one hand it was an ensemble piece where the actors create the set pieces, which is the type of theatre that I particularly enjoy (and don’t get to see much of outside of Fringe). In addition I have fond memories of bounding around stage in a six-foot rabbit suit as the March Hare for our high school production of Alice. Unfortunately the show was rather short and not as whimsical as I had hoped it would be (most likely because my Alice impressions are colored by Disney more than Lewis Caroll), but mainly I found myself frustrated by the blocking which left me craning to see a scene in the center aisle (while the stage behind lay empty) or staring at the actors backs. Nonetheless, there were plenty of interesting moments to sooth my initial terror when I realized from the program that everyone in the production seemed associated with University of Maryland Theatre. While I am sure they have a great program, my only association with their theatre is the 2006 Fringe show, The Play About the Hurricane, that Darren and I use as our baseline of unpleasant theatre-going experiences. This was no Hurricane and had plenty of fun moments including:

  • Representing Alice’s reflection by pushing a mask into an elastic silver cloth creating an effect reminiscent of the water creature from Abyss.

  • Two Wonderland creatures do battle by contorting themselves around each other without touching until one loses their balance and falls over
  • Having the cast create a door where two members represent the frame, one the door in the middle, and another sticking an arm though to serve as a doorknob which Alice turns
  • An exchange along these lines between Alice and talking flowers in a garden:
    • Alice: How come you talk and other flowers don’t?
    • Flowers: Feel down there
    • Alice (feeling the dirt): It’s hard
    • Flowers: Yes. Most flower beds are soft… so the flowers are asleep

I’ve learned some more lessons about how to better enjoy the Fringe festival but I’ll save them for my conclusions after next weekend’s round of shows.

No comments: