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Fringe Binge, Vol. 4

Surprises, Self-Portraits and More Reviews from the New Orleans Fringe Fest

With the New Orleans Fringe Fest rounding a sharp corner into the weekend, NoDef returns to dissect all the appendix, knitting, and more. Click through for another batch of reviews to help guide you through the next three nights of theatre:


Having our Appendix Out


Having Our Appendix Out is the kind of unconventional dance/sound performance that engulfs the senses and astonishes viewers with its unflinching execution. Created by New Orleans multidisciplinary artist Philip Berezney, the performance and installation includes an ensemble of five choreographed female dancers, multi-instrumentalist Philippe Landry providing a sonic backdrop, and Berezney himself dancing solo and alongside the ensemble.


All six of the dancers give compelling performances as they leap, gesture, and falter with a controlled fluency. Their expressions are straight-faced and sometimes perplexed, as if they are trying to make a decision but are unable to finish their thought processes. Perhaps the most obvious aspect of the show is that Berezney performs it entirely in the nude. This choice only further amplifies his disciplined performance and emphasizes his internal struggle.


Landry’s layered and rich sound improvisations throughout the production provide the perfect foundation for the dancers. Using tape loops, bells, violin bow, guitar, and pre-recorded music, he gives a show worthy of its own venue.


About an hour long, Having Your Appendix Out is an impressive achievement. Highly recommended for enthusiasts of modern dance, sound art, and anybody looking to witness a fearless masterful performance. Be forewarned that seating is limited to 25 per show. Having Your Appendix Out plays at 1239 Congress (BYOV) on Nov. 16 at 9 p.m., Nov. 17 at 3 p.m., and Nov. 18 at 9 p.m. -Joe Shriner



READ: Fringe Binge, Vol. 1



Mum's the Word

The nuclear family explodes in The Machine's (Charlotte, NC) original satirical comedy-drama, Mum's the Word. Todd and Lois are unhappily married; he is gay and an abuser of whiskey and painkillers, while she sings songs and adopts an African baby, Tyler Moses, who arrives in a sack with a pistol. Both Todd and Lois are on their own downward spirals, and Tyler, made over in khakis and a polo from his Somali pirate outfit, is witness to the absurdity of the American nuclear family. His parents wear farm animal masks on his birthday and sing "Colors of the Wind" while Tyler watches puzzled in an Indian headdress placed on his head.


Despite this broken home--her husband slumped in a wheelchair and her child a pawn for her own ego--Lois reinforces family values like shopping, making a good first impression, and the virtues of childbirth.  Zany and wide-eyed, she leads dance numbers like The Mommy Dance. She is the only entertaining event on stage, committed to campy fun, voice changes and a general eccentric nature in face and body. What makes her more enjoyable and also unfortunate is how vastly out of touch she is with her political incorrectness. When Lois is not present, like when Todd and Tyler go fishing for awkward father and son time, the energy plummets.  


This trio offers a ridiculous satire of 21st century American family sensibilities, replete with incest and suicide. But if this play is to succeed, the other two-thirds of the cast need to fall in line with Lois' style or at least have more interesting things to say and do. Mum's the Word plays at Cafe Istanbul (2372 St. Claude Ave.) on Nov. 16 at 11 p.m., Nov. 17 at 7 p.m. and Nov. 18 at 9 p.m. -Jonas Griffin



READ: Fringe Binge, Vol. 2



Surprise, No Surprise

Art isn’t always pretty, and Angelle Hebert drives that point home in Surprise, No Surprise. Choreographer and performance artist Angelle Hebert uses visual and auditory elements to create a relentless tension that takes her audience into the darkest depths of human psychology.  


Fringe describes the production as a “journey through the psychological and emotional impacts of a traumatic experience,” that “defies convention and comfort.” Hebert achieves these aims, challenging audience members to think about what truly makes them tick. 


The Marigny Opera House serves as an ideal venue for Hebert, whose modern set rested in juxtaposition to the sky-high ceilings and historic architecture of the building. While most of the performance was grating and tense, the set and lighting were visually appealing.


The scene consists of a kitchen, containing a rust-covered refrigerator that in the glow of yellow lighting appears to be blood-spattered. For many minutes of the first scene, Hebert is the only one moving. Another figure sits at a kitchen table, head down, completely still.


Character number two announces himself by pounding what sounds like a bag of glass against the ground, slowly emerging from his chair. He turns to the audience to present them with masked face, and lurches slowly towards a chair on the opposite end of the stage.


Hebert’s ominous male counterpart seems to be the source of her pain. The green skin and red eyes of his mask paint him as the antagonist, and the viewer perceives his stillness as brooding anger.  


The choreographer’s technical ability as a dancer is evident throughout the performance, and Hebert intersperses graceful ballet with terrifying facial expressions, threatening noises, and gurgling nonsense.


One example of these grating elements is Hebert’s loud teeth-chomping technique, in which she kneels before a microphone and noshes her jaw up and down, clamping to the beat of discordant sounds. Hebert vomits her words, hurling them through gagging and stuttering.


Those prone to uneasiness and/or faint of stomach, do not attend this Fringe play. Near the end of the performance, Hebert actually hocks lugies into a glass vase as the male figure opens the freezer to reveal a television screen blaring static sounds, followed by a video featuring Hebert. Although not enjoyable, Hebert flexes her avant-garde muscles (and her literal ones) in this entirely original piece of work.  See Surprise, No Surprise at the Marigny Opera House (725 St. Ferdiand) Friday at 9pm, Saturday at 5pm, and Sunday at 7pm. -M.D. Dupuy


READ: Fringe Binge, Vol. 3


My Alexandria

The Shadowbox Theater is the perfect venue for My Alexandria. Two actors, Sherard Curry and Daniel Ludwig, perform this short play about the trials of African-American soldiers who are sent to France to fight in World War I.  The two men each inhabit multiple roles, running through several brief dramatic sketches interspersed with one character or another coming forward to provide a direct narrative interlude to the audience. Two stools are used in many ways to suggest varied settings.  


The actors capably shift between characters, and the blocking is very well executed as the play spins from plot point to plot point.  The only weakness is some of the accents employed, but My Alexandria is less about being a period piece than it is a stylistic representation of history, an encyclopedic chapter dynamically fleshed out. Commanded by white men who were just a generation removed from the Civil War and Reconstruction, they were constantly fighting the predominant line of thought that black men could never fight or lead the way “real” white soldiers could.   


The African-American soldiers find a more welcome reception from the natives in France, however, especially when the army bands start playing jazz.  The theme of communal musical performance as a relief from both the struggle of labor and the horror of war is a dominant one, and recordings of early jazz are used often. Still, the music seems light and intangible compared to the heavy facts of how poorly African-Americans were treated, both during and after the war. The play hits home how rarely any of these men were given any credit for their heroism by their own government or even acknowledged as being worthy of the uniforms they wore by fellow soldiers and American citizens. 


In America we have become used to seeing a familiar trope in war stories: soldiers from different regions of the country overcome their regionalism and partake in camaraderie as a necessary antidote to war. My Alexandria follows the same track, but never lets us forget that at the time even solidarity could be segregated into separate but equal portions.  Even true acts of bravery—chillingly portrayed in one scene when one character takes two dozen Germans in a surprise attack—failed to chip away at the bedrock of American prejudice at the time. So we learn the lessons a century later and marvel at these men’s willingness to leave one war finished and return home to the one that never ends.  


Yet again the Fringe Fest has found a strong play with racial themes that could just as easily play on a community theater stage or in front of high school students as part of their cultural education, the type of play that seems to always travel to New Orleans instead of originating from here.  It is a good alternative to the Alternative, but be prepared to carry home a heavy heart. My Alexandria plays at the Shadowbox Theatre (2400 St. Claude Ave.) on Nov. 16 at 7 p.m., Nov. 17 at 5 p.m., Nov. 18 at 7 p.m. -Ryan Sparks



More Power to Your Knitting, Nell

Melanie Gall's piece More Power to Your Knitting, Nell provides an honest interaction with her audiences over some of the more comical pressures placed on women during the Second World War. The title character undergoes a rags-to-riches type transformation, at first wanting only to sing for the radio.  Eventually, however, she caves to the inevitable pressures of fame and begrudgingly becomes the face of knitting, promoting it over the airwaves as the best war effort at home.


From the moment Gall walks on stage, she has a comfortable presence with her audience; from the moment she starts to sing, she holds them enraptured.  The piece follows her story through the war and allows her to sing several inspirational knitting tunes. These songs, as ridiculous as they are--touting stories about knitting and "bathing baby Belgian refugees"--were taken from Canadian and American archives, and Gall even got a research grant to find them.


A dynamic performer with an strong background in opera, Gall continues to switch between her several songs and her linear narrative of Nell, almost too formulaically.  This rhythm is eventually broken by a vocal tour de force in one her final songs (in French no less!).  From this moment, the piece becomes incredibly personal, and the audience realizes they have been watching someone truly knitting for her life.


While this Canadian performer may have missed some of the more subtle aspects of US geography, the performance is is fun, quirky, and a must see if you like musical theatre. More Power to Your Knitting plays at Byrdie's (2422 St. Claude Ave.) Nov. 16-18 at 7 p.m. -Phil Yiannopoulos




The Self-Portrait of Jonathan Jenkins

The stage setting in The Self-Portrait of Jonathan Jenkins is an effectively stark one, using a quintet of expressionistic colored door frames to define space, stand in for Jenkins' canvases, and the like. They're each colored differently, corresponding to one of the main characters. It's fitting, then, that Jonathan Jenkins is the grey one, as he functions mostly as a the eye of the hurricane around which swirl the ambitions of others.


It's these others who conspire to shape and ruin Jenkins' artistic career. After his art is discovered in a gallery, he is quickly swept into what seems to be an ideal situation: representation by the “straight-forward” yet worldly art dealer Raymond Richter, who introduces him to the single-minded gallery owner Regine LaRoux. He sits for an interview with self-serving journalist Alita Allegra, and while LaRoux agrees to represent him for a show starting in only one month, she insists that he change his style to better suit potential buyers. She also insists that he sign a contract with the vicious lawyer Saxon Spellmeyer - in which he ends up signing away the rights to his art.


Mark Anthony Thomas performs Jenkins himself; his dynamic, expressive voice and pleasant demeanor embody both the affable newcomer and the wronged man. The libretto doesn't bless Jenkins with a lot of depth or passion - passages where he explains his artistic M.O. in particular are less than convincing - but it's not hard to empathize with the wrongs he's endured, although it's less than heartening that he ultimately seems to give up on his art.


The leads generally bring ample personality to the table here along with their generally excellent voice. Erin Rementer plays LaRoux with catty relish, snapping everyone to attention at will. Shelley Burton's turn as perky but conniving Alita Allegra is a high point, and a hilariously slouchy Guy Tem basically embodies his rather bizarre character. JeAnne Swinley's Spellmeyer is a sort of lawyer tramp, seducing Jenkins powerfully to sign his life away.


This was the world premiere of Self-Portrait, composed by Chris Burton, co-founder of the brand-new New Fangled Opera, and directed by Frances Rabalais. Burton's score employs the peppiness and darting interjections of Gershwin-era modernism; it's dense and extraordinarily resourceful, if unable to reach the emotional depths without a larger orchestra. However, played ably by the New Orleans Volunteer Orchestra under the direction of Burton himself, the score largely conveys just what it needs to. The New Fangled is dedicated to performing new opera work, and this one may provide a welcome foot in the door for the future. The Self Portrait of Jonathan Jenkins plays at Mardi Gras Zone (Port and Architect) on Nov. 16 at 5 p.m., Nov. 17 at 9 p.m., and Nov. 18 at 11 p.m. -Travis Bird




Los Angeles based duo Stephen Simon and Jon Monastero bring their Ten-West performance of Ineffable to the Shadowbox Theater for the 2012 Fringe Festival. Simon and Monastero, who are both the writers and performers of the play, definitely know how to travel light. Scattered in the dark corner of the Shadowbox stage is an easel, a wooden coffin, a few “magic” accoutrements—including ebony hats and a bouquet of white flowers—and at the back of the stage sits a small table topped with the necessary ingredients for a Eucharist,. Although the stage is slim in design, its sleek minimalism corresponds perfectly with the Vaudeville-esque actions and dances choreographed by Jeanne Simpson.  


This forty-five minute production of Ineffable boasts mime-like antics, and a constant breaking of the fourth wall. While Simon and Monastero act out the games that all humans like to play with death, they make sure to remind the audience that they aren’t alone in this dance. As Simon stated after the show, for him, the performance is all about, “communion with the audience.” He couldn’t be more accurate, considering that audience members are asked to take the performers’ pictures as they perch in front of the coffin, and they are hugged in condolence for the recently deceased. Both Simon and Monastero commit to the (over) acting needed for a piece like Ineffable, and their timeless look—wearing top hats and tails—emphasizes that death is something that we have been and always will be trying to avoid. But, in the end, the large, tall, and unavoidable presence of death (played by Simon, who is also a man of quite noticeable stature) always wins.


On the surface Ineffable may seem like the clownish performance of two men. Laughter is present throughout the play, but, under the direction of Bryan Coffee, a chilling reality that death is always present exudes behind the shadows of those smiles. Ineffable’s worthwhile quest to entertain and make audience members ponder life and death comes in the form of silliness and well-placed silences. With inspiration from the Muslin saying, “When the Angel of Death approaches, he is terrible. When he reaches you, it is bliss,” this performance makes the audience actively smile but also ponder the performance for days after. Inefable plays Nov 16th at 5 p.m., Nov 17th at 9 p.m., and Nov 18th at 11 p.m. at Shadowbox Theater (2400 St. Claude Avenue). –Kelley Crawford



Sherlock Holmes & the Hansom Cab Killer

The Baggy Pants production of Sherlock Holmes & the Hansom Cab Killer is an amazingly well-performed, fast-paced rendition of the classic detective.  Any type of synopsis of the plot would be impossible as the show continuously feeds off its own rhythms and plot twists. Baggy Pants leader Christopher Bange studied at Dell’arte International School of Physical Theater, and his performance (and those of his colleagues, for sure) flaunts clown training and a mastery of facial expression.  


Set up at Byrdie's Cafe on St. Claude, the troop transforms the friendly coffee shop into a veritable cabaret space with a multi-purpose curtain, puppetry, fog machines, and well-designed sounds.  The three actors involved in the piece create an array of characters (I counted at least nine), that are constantly engaging with one another and moving along the show.  All of the characters have distinct costumes (or mustaches) which become the best way to identify them, as the actors seem to switch faster than the cognitive brain.  How is it possible for three performers to maintain conversations among more than five characters at once?  Absolute trust, hard work, and performative virtuosity. Wittily written, consistently raunchy, and timed to perfection, there is not much more to say but go see it. Sherlock Holmes...plays at Byrdie's Cafe (2422 St. Claude Ave.) Nov. 16-18 at 11 p.m. -Phil Yiannopoulos




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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


Art Director

Michael Weber, B.A.


Listings Editor

Linzi Falk

Editor Emeritus

Alexis Manrodt

B. E. Mintz

Stephen Babcock

Published Daily