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Fringe's Final Lap
More Drama Reviews to Guide You Through the New Orleans Fringe Fest's Last Day
Updated 11.20, 5 p.m.
Careful not to blink, or Fringe might be gone. Last night, NoDef reviewers got site-specific, spoken-to and self-reflective. Check out these reviews to see how it all shook out:
Last night at Luthjens Dance Hall on Marigny, five young men walked out onto a sparse stage dressed in dark blue jumpsuits, black tank tops and black boots. Large posters of icons in black history hung on the wall behind them. A water cooler sits at one side of the stage and a makeshift bed stands alone and empty in the middle. The actors seem to move as a unit, tight and well drilled, clearly following agreed upon rules, but once the play starts, there are no rules and all bets are off.
Written by 22-year-old Kim Fischer as part of a semester end project at NYU, Wake Up is powerful, disturbing, honest and funny. The five actors, all NYU students, skewer every conceivable racial stereotype as the play moves seamlessly between three different situations. The structure of the piece keeps it moving with fluidity between the situations, with some of the actors doing double duty.
The larger portion of the piece is devoted to Sean, played by Kim Fischer. Sean is a young Asian man whose best friend is Lamar, a young black man. Sean is confused. He believes he's black: he dresses in urban wear, listens to hip hop, can pop a “yo yo, bro” out of his mouth with the requisite appropriate hand gestures and has changed his name to Deshawn. Oh yeah, and he says he can dance. When first we see him, he seems to have just arrived in a jail cell charged with murder. His cellmate, played beautifully by Travis Baird, is slightly menacing and Sean finds himself challenged regarding his self-identification as black.
A second scenario finds Matt (played by Max Carpenter) and Kenny (with Travis Baird jumping into a completely different character) as two employees at some kind of office. They manage this with the absurdly funny addition of broad yellow ties tossed over their black tanks and jumpsuits. While standing at the water cooler, the white Matt awkwardly tries to welcome Kenny to the workplace, all the while saying all the wrong things as Kenny does everything he can to remain cordial while retaining a big smile and a what-the-hell-have-I-gotten-myself-into look in his eyes.
A third scenario finds a white cop (also played by Max Carpenter) talking a good game about his fair mindedness until his son, Theo (played by Jesse Goldwater) is beaten to a pulp by a black perpetrator.
The pacing of Wake Up, along with its brazen and courageous writing, carries the audience effortlessly from one scenario to another with some other tidbits tossed in. Some conversations between characters are held in a dual mode: the actual conversation vs. what the character is really thinking. Rapid fire dialogue and razor sharp observations forces the audience to confront their own notions regarding race. The humor is fearless, sometimes causing uncomfortable but genuine laughter.
The five young actors who populate this racial minefield are talented, brave and self possessed. Each has at least one front and center speech, but those not in the spotlight act as a Greek chorus, and while it's difficult to take one's eyes off the speaker, what these guys are doing behind him adds so much. Glenn Quentin's Pavarotti-loving Lamar (standing amidst a pile of Popeye's chicken boxes, empty purple drink boxes, a basketball, a Run DMC CD, all tossed at him by the chorus) is by turns sensitive and confrontational. Max Carpenter does a great job of jumping from the clueless dweebie white office guy, Matt, to the arrogant, confused Cop. Jesse Goldwater as Theo has one of the bravest speeches in the piece, standing stage center espousing his racism under a spotlight. Travis Baird as the Cellmate is by turns scary and sensitive, and he's able to jump straight into the role of the new employee smiling wide in hopes of approval without missing a beat. Kim Fischer as Sean/Deshawn breaks the audience's heart as he mines his sense of identity and culture, the internal division between what he sees in the mirror, who he identifies with and how and if those two things can be reconciled.
Fischer says he wasn't trying to solve anything. He just wanted to put it all out there, and he did that beautifully. So much is packed into the 40 minute run time of this play that as one line smacks you in the face you're still chewing on it when the next one comes. Wake Up is challenging. It shows how confused our racial interactions can get, even in the language we use. Matt invites Kenny to a barbecue (watching Max Carpenter continually turning an unwrapped package of hot dogs with tongs is hilarious). Matt asks Kenny if he's had any trouble with the boss, trying to give Kenny a heads up as a new employee stating, “I know it can be hard for you people.” The audience gasps. Neither Matt, Kenny nor the audience knows whether Matt meant “you people” as new employees or as black person. Matt realizing his gaffe tries to make it right, trying hard not to offend and there it is: Do we censor ourselves when speaking to friends of another race, if so to what degree? Is that a good idea or does it just confuse and further separate us?
Fischer did not censor anything. The audience leaves the theatre thinking about what it means to be living in one's own skin, how that skin shapes our experiences and our world view, and wondering how or if we can get comfortable with ourselves as humans. Wake Up asks us if we can get past our pre-conceived ideas about ourselves and others so that maybe the next generations will wonder how anyone ever could have thought such things about other people.
Wake Up has one more showing tonight at 9PM at Luthjens Dance Hall, 535 Marigny. - Sam Jasper
Sarah, a play created by the Skin Horse Theater, benefits greatly from its venue. 1239 Congress Street, a 9th Ward house, was recently converted into a multi-purpose community center and creative arts space. The seating is limited to 20 people per performance. Inside the house, chairs are arranged along two walls and the action takes place feet away from the audience. The result is a performance space so intimate that the audience can hear sounds as quiet as an actress’ bare feet walking along the carpet.
The show opens with a woman in a nighty, Kate, played by Veronica Hunsinger-Loe, gliding around her living room by candlelight while the audience can smell fried onions cooking in the kitchen. She is preparing for a dinner party. She re-arranges different candlesticks, stands contemplatively in front of the front door, and whispers to herself, “I can’t do this.” She retreats to the second floor of the house. Smoke billows out from the kitchen while someone fumbles with his keys at the front door. Her husband Caleb, played by Evan Spigelman, rushes inside and puts out the fire in the kitchen. He then blows out all the candles and turns on the harsh overhead light.
Throughout the play Kate lights candles and Caleb blows them out. The reason for this is never explained. Much of the back-story is left mysterious, which makes the play all the more compelling. It’s as though each line of dialogue tells half the story while the other half is created in the audience’s imagination.
Reinforcing the mystery is the unusual seating arrangement. Often two characters will be conversing, but only one of the actor’s faces can be seen. Nobody in this play has the complete story as to what’s happening, only fragments, and that includes the audience.
After the fire has been put out, Kate reassures Caleb that she is “fine” even though she is covered in bruises and replaced all the furniture in their living room. She asks her husband if he remembers that it has been “one year ago today” that “it” happened. He says of course he knows. Their guests soon arrive, Sam, Kate’s estranged childhood friend and Marshall, Sam’s husband. They discover that Kate is doing much worse than they ever expected.
Writing further about the play would ruin it. It’s a play that thrives on suspense, intrigue, and verisimilitude. The question central to the play that all the characters are trying to unravel - What’s wrong with Kate? - leads to an exploration of topics ranging from the challenges of parenthood to the value of religion. It’s a brooding, shocking, gem of a play. It has one more showing tonight, November 20 at 9:00 p.m. -Michael Cohn-Geltner
Writing the Edge
At first I struggled with the theme of Writing the Edge—“Recovery, Rebuilding, and Rebirth”—thinking it was time the New Orleans artistic community was ready to move on from Katrina. Then I considered that the poets were the first artists to put their blood on paper after the storm, far ahead of the journalists compiling their articles, the historians for hire, the novelists who can take years to finish a book. And like many New Orleans artists, Katrina drew blood that spilled indelibly onto the page and canvas. If you’re going to bring your best work, you can’t get away from the events of 2005.
And bringing powerful work to the stage is what these poets mostly did. There are various schools of poetry, and performance/spoken work is just one genre, but a talented reader working from a good text can bring out the same experience as an actor working with a great script and both the performance poets and those more accustomed to dramatic reading all managed to deliver at least one home run last night.
The star of the evening (and just about any stage he takes) was Raymond “Moose” Jackson, poet and author of the play Loup Garou mounted last year by ArtSpot productions to great acclaim. A lanky and commanding figure, he brings not only a powerful voice but puts his entire body into the poem, with illustrative hand gestures and at moments leaning forward into the mike balanced on one leg with the other in the air behind him like a water bird.
He read a number of poems, including a powerful paean to long deceased musician James Booker, known equally for his unique and talented playing and singing and for his struggles with alcohol and drugs, suggesting that “the best heaven he would ever know was a a barroom here in New Orleans.” He read one immediate post-Katrina poem, An End to Vicious Rumors, turning the night’s theme on its head by directly addressing bleak despair so may suffered in the year immediately after the storm: “but I can’t claim that we are rebuilding/for nothing remains the same… and we couldn’t save ourselves/even if we tried/and I have tried…” Another poem, decrying the gentrification of New Orleans' downtown neighborhoods, argued “our local culture is what brought us home…everything in the street here is art./We take a go-cup/ and go looking for trouble…that’s the jazz…goddamn it isn’t easy but it is worth it.”
Diana Shortes, who is also presenting The Baroness Undressed as part of Fringe, used her accomplished acting skills to dominate the stage, but in a subtler way, Her magnetic presence and commanding voice recounted a short Katrina poem that opens and closes with her singing a Sanskrit verse to Shiva and which compares a scar on her own body to the scarring of Katrina. She also presented an unsettling but hypnotically compelling piece about body piercing, read at the same venue in a short form and later the same night in full for Unroute at least year’s Fringe. Her calm but visceral presentation of the subject was powerful even though she froze early in poem over a line. “Let me start over,” she asked the audience, and then kept them spellbound and uncomfortably bent forward in their seats with equal parts concentration and consternation.
Mona Lisa Saloy rocked the room with her long piece “The ‘N’ Word. I immediately bought the chap book after the performance but won’t quote it here. Let’s just say she left the room in awe and laughter with her dramatic catalogue of what she considers appropriate uses. “We all say it/But we’re not /Supposed to anymore.” Her own Katrina poem focused on the closing of churches, a long and moving catalog of what churches mean to neighborhoods, closing with her singing a gospel version of one refrain from the Catholic Mass.
Michael “Quess?” Moore apologized as he started his performance, saying he was “drunk at the reading you’re getting paid for” then explained that he in fact had a cold and had just taken Nyquil, and would read from his book rather than speak from memory as he frequently does. He took us past the immediate bleakness of Katrina and deeply into today with a poem about the state of the city’s fractured charter school system. “Wanna know who the charters answer to?/ Just follow the money…Same good ole boys and monied banks that kept your great great great grandmothers in chains.” One of the city’s best spoken word artists, he tossed his book across the stage, and finished a long and powerful poem about the breakdown of the city’s schools into private charters without it.
Batting cleanup was Joseph Makkos, an extremely talented literary poet called in at the last minute to replace spoken word artist IKON, who was ill. He read well from his talented work but lacked the stage presence of the performance poets.
MC and performer Valentine Pierce opened the evening with one of her frequently performed pieces that begins “I was never meant to be a poet/Never chose poetry/Poetry chose me”, presented her own Katrina poem in which she answers the question so many Orleanians were asked six years ago: why we don’t leave it behind? “What am I supposed to leave behind? My friends? My family? My city?” She closed the night with the crowd pleasing "Blue Blue Blues," in which she coaxes two halves of the audience into accompanying her reading. One side doing “duh Duh duh DUH” while the other imitates a high-hate cymbal: chsss chsss, chsss chsss..
In the end each of the performers answered the theme by calling on their Katrina-inspired works, but the great moments of the evening—Saloy’s The “N” Word, Jackson’s Booker poem and Shortes' piercing epic—occurred when they stepped out of the past and into other subjects. Saturday’s performance did not quit fill the room, compared to last year’s SRO event, and I have to wonder if the night’s theme of Recovery, Rebuilding, and Rebirth might have kept a Katrina weary audience away. This venue might do well to finally let that past go and free New Orleans’ vibrant poetry community to simply celebrate the city. As Jackson put it, “that’s the jazz.” -Mark Folse (Read more of Folse's Fringe coverage atToulouseStreet.net)
The Invisible Draft
The Invisible Draft, a “radio play silent movie,” begins with a video being projected onto a map, while two monologues are played simultaneously. One is in a romance language, most likely Italian, based on the play’s heavy influence from Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities. The other is spoken by one person whose voice starts as high pitched as an anxious 12 year-old’s and ends in a pitch as low as Johnny Cash reaching the bottom of his range. The playbill says that this character is named the “Girl With a Backpack”, played by Briana Pozner.
The video, projected onto a cloth backdrop that looks like a medieval map thrown through a washing machine, is a series of still photographs cut together to make something like a high-tech flipbook. The images are of red cutout objects that look like people moving and expanding across a table.
The stage lights turn on, and a man with an unhinged smile dances around the stage as though he’s trying to shake a demonic chill out of his bones. The dance stops and the lights dim. The monologues and video begin again. The playbill says that the dancer’s character is called "Our Man of the World”, played by Maxwell Cramer. Instead of two monologues by two different speakers, there is now one monologue spoken by one speaker with two different portions being spoken at the same time. The video shows different phrases morphing into each other, all of which have the word “cities” in them
The lights go on again and Our Man of the World comes out and dances with bird wings whose feathers are maps. The video resumes and the girl with a backpack muses about the challenges of traveling in a world that’s already been explored. She sees the problem as being that she was born “Post Discovery.”
The video and monologues tend to blend together with no beginning, middle, or end, making it difficult to remember some of the overlapping images. Perhaps during Our Man of the World’s dance, the girl with the backpack says bits and pieces of the phrase, “I desire you so much that the first time we touch I want to rip you to pieces.” The video feed showed out-of-focus pictures that appeared to be Coney Island and subway doors, creating the illusion of travel by train.
Our Man of the World does provide the play with some semblance of progression. He works with bigger props the longer the play goes on. It culminates in a well-choreographed dance, as he tries to control a cloth map, which ebbs and flows like water as the video feed is projected onto it. It’s the closest thing that The Invisible Draft has to a climax.
The Invisible Draft’s final showing is tonight at 7:00 p.m. at the NOLA Candle Factory (4537 N. Robertson). -Michael Cohn-Geltner
Before discussing The Wall, an important disclaimer is in order: the show is essentially being workshopped. For example, the score is played from two small, computer speakers attached to the director's laptop. That said, The Wall has the potential to be a very, very good play - when finished.
The play is theoretically Homer's Odyssey set in modern times... at a Walmart. The classical roots are rarely present save for a Penelope-esque character who appears occasionally, clutching her shawl. No knitting is involved and the character defies Chekov's credo about guns and acts.
Yet, we must remember that the show is basically a workshop. The reason that the context is so easy to forget is the high quality found in the rest of the play. The writing is for the most part excellent, and overcomes the temptation to rest on the gimmick of the conceit. Instead we are treated to witty dialogue, and excellent pacing. The play moves almost like an improv comedy, with quick sketches peppered with brief interludes to recover from the laughter.
Of equal significance is the superb acting. Jason Kirkpatrick plays a working class Odysseus, and Kerry Cahill, Donna Duplantier, and Donald Lewis play the rest of the cast, donning wigs and masks to switch between character. Once again, a resemblance to improv can be found. The actors move like unit, alternating on and off of the stage and character with ease. The process resembles comedians slapping in and out. Further, many of the laughs are from physical, nearly slapstick bits.
Of course, any work in progress needs progress. Some of the plot elements dead end. We’re not quite sure why the protagonist is spends a portion of the opening obsessing over a black-eyed pea, or what becomes of Penelope. The plotline at the WalMart, itself, is definitely more cohesive. The play feels as if it began as an adaptation of the Odyssey, but the writer lost interest in that trope come the forth scene leaving many of Homer’s plot elements dangling. Sure they serve as motivation, but are they motivating Homer’s protagonist or the one we find on St. Claude?
Despite the rough nature, the product is still solid, and the promise wide. Here is one Wall that should not be torn down. -Lancey Howard
Cocktales with Astronauts
Cocktales with Astronauts is designed to be a raunchy mix of physical comedy, story telling and original music performed by The Rooster Group (a.k.a. Keira McDonald and friend) out of Seattle, Wash. Definitely for adults, the show will bring some smiles and some cringes. Showing at Café Istanbul, the show is a series of vignettes looking at a range of issues from erectile dysfunction to the true story of an astronaut who drives 900 miles in a diaper to mace her love rival in the face.
McDonald's technical ability is clear quickly enough. Her background in mime makes her an adept physical comic and her writing is both clever and thoughtful. Her friends' songs are witty and tuneful. Unfortunately, opportunities for the two performers to enhance each others' work are passed over too often. Perhaps this is due to McDonald’s considerable background in solo shows. However, thestill the audience remains left wishing for more interaction. Additionally, portions of the show had to be struck due to time constraints, and these losses seemed to leave the entire show feeling a bit disjointed and purposeless.
There were several very funny moments. The opening of the show was auspicious with an hysterical piece involving a naked man, a chicken mask, and a voiceover discussion of pornography. (Did I mention raunchy and heartfelt?). However, in Café Istanbul where the clean new space made us feel like drinking chai tea and viewing an ethnic dance, the audience never reached the raucous heights the performers needed for their considerable warmth and improv skills to flourish.
If you are looking to get a little rowdy with your friends in a show, then this one may be the one for you. However, its disjointed, rough edges and incompatible setting make it hard to recommend. Nonetheless, for those who just haven’t had a good raunchy laugh lately head down to Café Istanbul Nov. 20th at 11pm and enjoy life on the fringe. -Glenn McMahon
Dead Huey Long, Emma Boyce, Elizabeth Davas, Ian Hoch, Lindsay Mack, Anna Gaca, Jason Raymond, Lee Matalone, Phil Yiannopoulos, Joe Shriner, Chris Staudinger, Chef Anthony Scanio, Tierney Monaghan, Stacy Coco, Rob Ingraham,
Brandon Roberts, Rachel June, Daniel Paschall
Michael Weber, B.A.
B. E. Mintz
Published Daily by
Minced Media, Inc.