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Fringe Binge, Vol. 1

NoDef Reviews Plays Across the New Orleans Fringe Festival



With performers planting and ready to bloom in the Crescent City for the weekend, The New Orleans Fringe Festival arrived for its annual installment Wednesday night. NoDef's crack team of reviewers fanned out across the Marigny-Bywater and beyond to get the early skinny on what the alt-theatre extravaganza has to offer this year. From dance to puppetry to feral creatures to sex references that make people squirm, this year's installment seems poised to test the limits of one festival once again. Here's some reviews:

 

Isis and Nepthys

A large white sheet and strobe lights set the stage for Isis and Nepthys.  Despite minimal background and simple costumes, this modern dance speaks to strength and fluidity. Foregoing distracting props, the dancers of Good Dance Since 1984 entrance the audience with only their movements.  One leaps into the air or writhes on the ground.  Another flips her partner across her back in one swift motion. Nothing seems out of order.

 

Maintaining very intense expressions throughout the show, the dancers, clad in neutral colors, encompass the archetypal female image that one might associate with goddesses like Isis and Nepthys.  Although all the dancers move with grace and elegance, Donna, the leader of the team, shines above the rest. On the stage, her precise, controlled movements hint at some underlying power.  

 

The performance highlights a certain duality that perhaps reflects the two sister goddesses.  At once ancient and contemporary, the dance moves from the primal sound of a drum to the hip hop beats of Kanye West. Beginning as one in sync unit, the dancers slowly devolve into mirror images of each other until they break apart all together and into their own rhythm. Alternating between languid, flowing movements and jarring, darker moves, the dancers showcase their wide range of skills.  

 

Part of the dancers’ fluidity comes from nature and Isis’ connection with the natural world.  At one point the dancers almost look like seaweed or a sea fan being tossed back and forth in the changing current.  With their feet firmly planted on the ground, all four dancers sway their upper bodies back and forth and up and down.  

 

Using some music by well-known artists like Thom York and Kanye West connects the abstract dance with the modern viewer.  The instrumental tracks, however, lent themselves to a more whimsical feeling.  The show lasts about 45 minutes, a perfect length for the average viewer. At the end of it, I found myself wanting more. Isis and Nepthys plays at Marigny Opera House (725 N. Rampart St.) on Nov. 16 at 7 p.m., Nov. 17 at 11 p.m. and Nov. 18 at 9 p.m. -- Emma Boyce

 

She Remembers

The NOLA Project's production of She Remembers is very meta, very Brechtian. I can say this with absolute certainty because it's right there in the script which the amnesiac angel Agatha stumbles across in her first moments on the darkened stage. It is also very, very funny. The play manages to touch on Life, The Universe and Everything without pretension. It is touching without being cloying, an inverted It's a Wonderful Life with a tentative but buoyantly optimistic angel engaging the audience in figuring it all out until she finally gets her wings and the audience adjourns to the back patio for s'mores.

 

Natalie Boyd carries this one-angel show with a witty and ditzy grace. Agatha's angelic nature glows around her like a spot as she works out—with a very human confusion and a sorority optimism—why she is in this bare room with a tattered script , the show's only prop. She frequently reads from the script  (author's directions and all) but constantly “interrupt[s] this program for a very important messenger”, gradually recalling her angelic mission as it bubbles up in earnest but engaging speeches, asides delivered comically to the walls, songs and an interpretive dance inspired by the several pages of the script unreadably stained by spilled coffee. Boyd and director Beau Bratcher deliver this cosmic package with deft comic timing. Boyd's ability to navigate the show's twists and turns from beaming, beatific serious to quirky comic with a quick-change expression would draw applause from Carol Burnett.

 

Beneath all of the marshmallows and syrup, playwright James Bartelle manages to touch on mortality and doubt with deft moments that never interrupt the show's comic tone. The show wears its message on its sleeve from the moment the house lights dim to The Lion King's “Hakuna Matata” until Boyd dances to Bobby McFerrin's “Don't Worry, Be Happy.” But Bartelle couches his meditative, feel-good message in clever conceits that will leave the rest of the audience wishing they had a reviewer's notebook on their knee to jot them down. The moment Agatha observes that “the sun doesn't really go down. We just all tilt backwards together,” Boyd and Bartelle pull the audience across the fourth wall and into Agatha's tipsy universe, a world in which  the now-banal idea that we are all stardust is given back it's magic. You will walk out of this show with a warm glow, a fortune cookie, and Agatha's repeated “Simon says: Live!” engraved in your heart. She Remembers runs Nov. 15-18 at 9 p.m, with an additional 7 p.m. show on the 18th at Divine Yoga, 1228 Oretha C. Haley Blvd. S'mores with the cast and crew in the patio afterwards.--Mark Folse of Odd Bits of Life in New Orleans

 

The Collector

It can be hard to get to know a puppet, especially one that doesn’t talk or sing.  The Animal Cracker Consiracy’s experimental puppet show The Collector asks a lot of its protagonist, a fully articulate yet blank-staring man in a suit tasked by a monkey overlord and his animated camera tripod henchmen to collect sentimental objects from the denizens of a trash-strewn world.  

 

The story unfolds across several scenes acted against three convertible mini-sets. The puppets employed are creatively constructed and ably operated by the two human performers, but due to their small size the action can sometimes get confusing, leaving the audience to take their eyes off the puppets and seek expression and meaning from the faces of the puppeteers themselves.  Another distraction is the fact that the central set, which sees the bulk of the action, is filmed by a small camera, and the feed goes to a screen directly above. Unfortunately, the feed is choppy and the camera is constantly adjusting focus and light, so the details of the smaller character cutouts frequently used to imply scope and distance are lost.  

 

This is a small technical obstacle that can easily be ignored by leaning a little closer towards the stage and ignoring the video screen altogether, but the plot provides its own impediments. A clear conflict between the collector and his bosses is established early, and a touching scene between the collector and another doll puppet he must take a special object from are clearly enacted.  After the borders are established, however, the puzzle of the show starts to become challenging, especially since we are given no indication of what the final picture is supposed to look like. The collector encounters a harpy or bird-woman that casts a spell on him and carries him away. Wherever “away” is becomes hard to determine. Later, an old man helps him defeat the mechanical henchmen, but the audience is left to supply its own explanation for the character’s motives.  

 

The Collector is elaborately constructed, and it’s obvious that a lot of effort has gone into its assemblage and practice, especially since all the action has to be choreographed specifically to a pre-recorded soundtrack. The puppetry itself is professional, but the puppets’ stylistic impact leaves something to be desired. The Animal Cracker Conspiracy shows that the disparate elements of animation, puppetry, music, and theater can combine into a solid presentation. Unfortunately, all the effort is counterbalanced by the enigma of the plot. The birds-eye views of the show’s general themes (anti-authoritarianism, the human spirit’s resistance to commodification) cease to exist when the focus draws down on the action, and all the atmosphere struggles to pick up the slack. That being said, there doesn’t appear to be any show like it on Fringe’s schedule, and true puppetry enthusiasts should check it out. The Collector plays at the Old Firehouse (718 Mandeville St.) on Nov. 16 at 5 p.m., Nov. 17 at 9 p.m. and Nov. 18 at 11 p.m. -Ryan Sparks

 

lie, lay, laid

In a hotel room on North Rampart Street, a timid flirtation escalates into a wet and wild romp on the polished hardwood floor. lie, lay, laid is a site-specific show featuring Lynn Brown and Lynn Marie Ruse from New York City’s FREEFALL dance company performing for an audience of no more than 15 spectators in room 34 of the Olde Town Inn.

 

The show is imbued with the tension and passion of a night spent with a stranger picked up at a Franklin Street bar. A bedside clock radio tuned to WWOZ provides the soundtrack, and a black-and-white French film projects silently on a wall. With hardly a word spoken, the dancer’s bodies tangle and untangle as they move from the bed, to the floor, to the shower and back.

 

The intimacy of the venue and the close proximity of audience and actors give the show a voyeuristic appeal, and the choreography allows the dancers to tell a story of tenderness and desire that unfolds with each act. The unconventional setting and the unexpected power of the quiet, subtle production make lie, lay, laid an ideal Fringe Fest offering.  lie, lay, laid plays at the Old Towne Inn, Room 34 (2311 N. Rampart St.) on Nov. 15 at 9 p.m., Nov. 16 at 5 & 9 p.m., Nov. 17 at 5 & 9 p.m., Nov. 18 at 5 & 9 p.m. -Brad Rhines

 

 

 

Wolves

Once upon a time, there were two ex-lovers turned roommates living, not loving, in a small apartment, safe and sound from the big scary world outside until stir-crazy Jack (Taylor McLellan) brings home a wolf for a one night stand. Since Ben's (Andrew Farrier) psychosis perceives a forest rather than a city and wolves rather than men populating the urban frenzy, the Wolf's (Ben Carbo) invasion into his sacred space of guitar strumming and lava lamps is nothing short of a nightmare. Red stage lights eerily fade away while Farrier mutters as if possessed and stark pops of light flash in time with the slinging of the axe.

 

Farrier's Ben is a startling mixup of an anxious, needy lover and a passionate defender of the hearth more frightening than any wolf. His demented soliloquies of rage and fear expose him as a man afraid of being alone with himself. McLellan plays aloof and irritated until Farrier's intensity reduces him to equal wolf hysteria. The Wolf that ultimately brings Ben and Jack together is Ben Carbo. He hides the monster behind toothy smiles, an earnest want to connect and a realistic casualness until the Narrator shows him how to get revenge. Once unleashed, Carbo sheds the awkward guy from the bar disposition and goes full-moon feral.

 

Ben and Jack do not live happily ever after. As the lecturing, frustratingly diplomatic matter of fact Narrator (Kerry Cahill) reminds us, a moral may be hard to find because this love story lingers on heartbreak. Cahill advances and pauses the story in spotlight moments during which she cautions the audience, for example, that stories create expectations and thus disappointment. Her proctoring of this narrative tempers all the shock and trauma and often cuts the tension with an unflappable, clinical sense of humor.

 

Aimée Hayes directs a love story nuanced enough to address the idea of need and the absence of intimacy between two guys. Despite some gore and the fantastical story at hand, Hayes keeps a steady, restrained hand that keeps the focus on the actors. Not only queer-oriented, Wolves opens the front door and gives you a chance to see what happens when the outside gets in. An ax is thrown, the insane break the sane, an apartment is destroyed: the big bad wolf has huffed and puffed his way in and this house is blown down. Southern Rep's Wolves plays at Den of Muses (Port and Architect) on Nov. 16 at 11 p.m., Nov. 17 at 9 p.m. and Nov. 18 at 5 p.m. -Jonas Griffin

 

The Chaser

 

A bittersweet reflection on the role of the closing act of a vaudeville show, Bremner Duthie's The Chaser details one man's struggle after his fall from stardom.  

 

From the second Duthie walks in wearing a disheveled suit and purposefully gripping a flask, one senses the desperation of the character to find his raison d'étre in the theatre. The character's stumbling steps and chronically forgotten punch lines are at once funny and bitingly sad as the stakes escalate throughout the piece. The energy of the production also tries to chase and distill the role of live performance, of the fleeting moment, which is in turn paralleled by the story of the performer's lost love.

 

Throughout the piece, Duthie sporadically bursts into such period songs as "St. James Infirmary," "Dying Crapshooter's Blues," and dramatically turns "Smile, Darn Ya, Smile!" on its head.  He is sometimes accompanied by pre-recorded audio, his own banjo or accordion, but it is mainly his full, deflatingly sultry voice that fills the space with his laments.  Props in the show also carry a significant weight, sometimes successfully slapsticky, sometimes hypnotizing, while always self-consciously exploring its own role in performance.

 

The venue, Cafe Istanbul, provides an interesting contrast in terms of period and decor, as it is a part of the new and refurbished New Orleans Healing Center.  Yet the nature of the space offers an array of thematic ties, specifically how the relation to theatre and the arts can be the deciding factor keeping one person--or even one community--alive in times of trouble.

 

Overall the piece has a good rhythm, punctuated by Duthie's ability to jump in and out of his character as dictated by the show.  While the spectator will reach his own conclusions about the role of theatre, Duthie, as he says in the beginning, provides more than enough "quaint and charming melodies to chase you into the streets." The Chaser plays at Cafe Istanbul (2372 St. Claude Ave.) on Nov. 16, at 9 p.m.,  Nov. 17 at 5 p.m., Nov. 18 at 11 p.m. -Phil Yiannopoulos

 

Ester

The struggle of Ester, the lead in the Fringe production of the same name, is palpable. The five characters, one of which began participating from the audience about ten minutes into the play, conveys all the love, despair, and madness advertised in the program’s description. This viewer's encountered one limitation, however: I do not speak Spanish.

 

All of the dialogue is in Spanish aside from a couple of minutes of English, which explain little to none of the plot. In the Fringe program’s description, “Bilingual, Subtitles,” is listed as a note. However, there are no subtitles, and a person would certainly need to be bilingual (or a unilingual Spanish speaker) to truly grasp exactly what happens in this play.  

 

There are elements that resonate with viewers despite the language barrier. As in the biblical story of Esther, the female lead is powerless in a misogynistic environment. Ester shifts between dealing with the problems of her personal life as a woman confined to domestic servitude and grappling with a corrupt government.

 

In one scene, she carries on with her household duties and portrays her frustration and anger at her situation by slamming dishes down as she sets the table. The male of the house is quick to scold her for her belligerence, but her obstinacy still conveys the fighting spirit that makes her such a great lead.

 

Set design is minimal but executed creatively. Four small tables are shifted to place the viewer in different scenes throughout the performance, and blocking is exceptional. In one scene, Ester and another character throw wooden stools across the stage, and Ester gracefully catches each by its bottom rung, stacking them without missing a beat. Actors use the same small stools to create booming sound effects later in the play, clapping them together to convey the intensity of the moment.

 

For obvious reasons, I can’t speak to the quality of the storyline. I can tell you that the acting is emotive enough to maintain the viewer’s interest, although exclusive English-speakers will feel lost throughout most of the action.

 

Scenes that were particularly gripping (perhaps because they include more action than dialogue) include an execution, as well as a scene in which Ester frantically tries to avoid being whipped. The blocking is on point in this scene as well, and the cracking of the rope hits a nerve as Ester flails about, helpless against her abuser. 

Ultimately, this play is recommended for those who are fluent in Spanish. See Teatro Naif’s production of Ester at the Shadowbox Theatre (2400 St. Claude Ave.) all weekend. Performances are tomorrow at 9pm,  Saturday at 11pm, and Sunday at 5pm. -M.D. Dupuy

 

 

Rhyme Soda

Sardonic, solipsistic, and postmodern enough to warrant verbal footnotes, Rhyme Soda is the poetry-minded alter ego of writer Paul Oswell, who originally made his New Orleans Fringe Festival debut last year. Oswell charmed audiences as Sebastian Lyme-Regis, a faux representative of BP post-oil spill on a literal charm offensive. While the character of Lyme-Regis uses his inherent outsider status for the basis of his material, Oswell's (who is originally from across the pond) Rhyme Soda attempts to straddle his two worlds. The results are hilarious for the most part, if only slightly unpolished. Oswell's stage presence is strong though his banter between pieces was plagued by "ums" and "uhs."

 

 

Banter with the audience, however, was impeccable. Oswell had his go-to person yet definitely felt out the room well, playing to each person in attendance at the cozy Graphite Galleries in the Quarter. The subheading of "this rhyme it's personal" had been proven correct, though a couple did walk out after Oswell mentioned sex.

 

 

Oversharing is part of the game, though, and Fringe Fest is known for its offbeat performers. A particular treat was seeing one such performer take the stage midway through the show. Last night local comedian Brian Bonhagen stepped in to replace Chris Fontana. Breaking things up with another act instead of an intermission made for a very entertainment-packed show, something Oswell strives to do each night with a different guest at every performance. Bonhagen was spot-on with his comedy, choosing to operate without a microphone in relatively packed Royal St. gallery.

 

 

Rhyme Soda finished up with his piece-de-resistance, an ode to the ubiquitous local spice Tony Chachere's. Rhymes rolled at a breakneck rate. Though it initially began with an a capella intro recalling the first lines of "I Will Survive," the speed of flow changed drastically about a quarter of the way through the piece. Oswell got tongue-tied, regrouped, and continued with the poem, aptly entitled "Salt of the Earth." It was a strong finish, showing the ever-broadening range of Oswell's one man shows. To carry an entire audience with only the help of a few beats, minimalist posters, and just one guest may be harder than Rhyme Soda's quest to find a word that rhymes with "poetry" but talk to anyone in attendance after the show and they'll tell you he's done it. Now to find that rhyming dictionary with "poetry" in it. Rhyme Soda plays at the Graphite Galleries (936 Royal St.) on Nov. 15 at 9 p.m., Nov. 16 at 9 p.m., Nov. 17 at 7&9 p.m., and Nov. 18 at 7&9 p.m. -April Siese

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Contributors

Renard Boissiere, Evan Z.E. Hammond, Naimonu James, Wilson Koewing, J.A. Lloyd, Nina Luckman, Dead Huey Long, Alexis Manrodt, Joseph Santiago, Andrew Smith, Cynthia Via, Austin Yde

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Michael Weber, B.A.

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Linzi Falk

Editor Emeritus

Alexis Manrodt


B. E. Mintz


Stephen Babcock

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