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(More) Views From the Fringe

A Second Helping of Reviews From Opening Night at New Orleans Fringe Fest



In the second act of reviews of the opening night of the New Orleans Fringe Fest, NoDef's crack team of stage savants check out a circus, a sexed-up Streetcar, spaghetti western slapstick, and, as ever, girls and hip-hop.

 

 

Cirque Berserque

Den of Muses (Architect St. near Port), otherwise known as the storage warehouse for Krewe du Vieux’s ever irreverent floats, is the perfect venue for New Orleans’ own Cirque Berserque. Comedically chaotic and full of slapstick mayhem, this kid-friendly one-act performance from the Washington Square Park Circus Collective has plenty of fodder to keep the adults entertained, and the bawdy floats surrounding the stage are just the beginning. 

 

The main conceit in this mischievous romp is that the show’s ringleader (Cripple Creek’s Alden Eagle) has become a power hungry tyrant, literally standing on the edge of the playing space and ridiculing the performers as they hoop, balance, juggle, and fly through the air. The performances naturally suffer from this scrutiny, and the tension builds until the stage erupts into total pandemonium.  Acrobats and aerialists exchange blows on a trapeze, hula hoopers chase each other, and the audience is encouraged to join the fray, resulting in juggler’s balls flying from all directions and a few minutes of solid, rip-roaring anarchy. 

 

Thankfully, a blasé, popcorn-muching lion (Ingrid Anderson) saves the day with a few platitudes about teamwork and confidence, and the gang decides to boot their master and put on their own circus.  At this point, nearly 30 minutes into a 45 minute show, the real talent shines. Previously clumsy hoopers Joshua and Crysty Skevington deliver a crisp, synchronized routine. George the Juggler returns as well, adding new balls, a gyroscope, and a balance barrel to his initially lukewarm act. The biggest transformation is seen in acrobats M’issa Fleming, Aaron Lind, and Mister Shameus Pan Greymountain, whose antics in the first half of the show border on dangerous as they yank and pull each other into perilous positions, vying for stage time. Their encore is strong, graceful, and painstakingly rehearsed. Trapeze artists Melissa Clark and Clementine round out the show, no longer pestering accordionist Cat Dimple for different music, but instead showing off a quick battery of tricks that brought cheers from kids and parents alike.

 

The show is rough around the edges and, for the most part, this adds to the charm. Inconsistent costumes are forgivable, but at times it was difficult to tell whether our players were “acting” disorganized or not, especially with several inaudible and obviously improvised lines of dialogue in the first half of the show.  Cirque Berserque would do well to flip the ratio of stage time devoted to the “bad” and “good” performances. There’s simply too much talent in this cast to waste in half an hour of sloppy farce, but when they allow the fourth wall to slide back into place they present an entertaining and well-executed ride.  Cirque Berserque shows Nov. 18 at 5 p.m., Nov. 19 at 7 p.m. and Nov. 20 at 11 p.m. -Moxie Sazerac

 

My Aim is True

At the Mudlark Public Theater (1200 Port St.), a mysterious stranger with a big cowboy hat and an even bigger gun arrives in a small town with one motive: to kill everybody in it. My Aim is True, written and directed by Matthew Hancock, is a creative, well-crafted, and funny piece inspired by 1970s Spaghetti Westerns.

 

From his gritty voice to his John-Wayne stride, Adam Belvo is simply fantastic as the Stranger. His physical score is so precise and grounded. But this talented performer could not do it alone; this is an ensemble piece. And there is no weak link in the chain. From Nick Thomas’ boy who has to run the saloon because his ma and pa have been shot dead to Cole Wimpee’s Aslaksen the Barber who nips his flask a little too hard to Michael Mason’s squinty-eyed and mustachioed Preacherman to Adam Laten Wilson’s gambling and rambling Doctor to Zoe Metcalfe-Klaw’s feisty and independent Mabeline The Whore with The Golden Teeth to Nick Capodice’s harmonica-playing Undertaker, I was so impressed with every performance in this show.

 

Hancock’s staging and use of the Mudlark’s architecture was smart and cinematic. The costumes were sumptuous. The musical underscoring was right on. The physical work from start to finish was so well done. With a pantomimed Colt in the Stranger’s holster, the stylized gun fights were delightful. Hancock and his ensemble find several imaginative ways to show the gunshot wounds and blood: ping pong balls, sheets of red paper, the removal of several layers of shirts that show a blood stain getting bigger and bigger.

 

Did I mention it is also really funny?

 

Presented by the Brooklyn-based Matt Torrey’s Bar, My Aim is True is a truly special piece that should not be missed. The show runs Nov 17, 7 pm; Nov 18, 9 pm; Nov 19, 1 pm & 9 pm; and Nov 20, 5 pm & 7 pm. -Helen Jaksch

 

Girls! Girls? Girls

 

It might be a one-woman show, but Girls! Girls? Girls. features an impressive cast of characters.  The premise of the show revolves around Briana Brushetta, a teenage girl who dreams of being the newest "Pussy Rim Chick” by landing a spot in rapper 40 Ounce’s  video for the song “Pussy Rims." The song's hook brags, “I got pussy…and rims, bitch!”  Along the way, Briana encounters others around her who are equally engrossed by the hip-hop sensation. 

 

Written and performed by Marjuan Canady, presented by Sepia Works at Luthjen's Dance Hall (535 Marigny St.), and directed by Noelle Ghoussaini, Girls! Girls? Girls. examines the cultural roles of black women and specifically focuses on hip-hop’s impact on the ways women are viewed in society.   In years past, hip-hop was under fire for misogynistic attitudes, but it has since quietly spread to the mainstream, marking a shift in the perception of how society defines beauty, femininity, and contemporary gender roles. 

 

At times, the play’s premise gives Canady a pass to embody the stereotypes and over-generalizations she’s railing against—like when she plays 40 Ounce, or a gossipy Caribbean receptionist, or a teenage prostitute—and it’s at these moments that the show is at its most shallow.  Other characters, however, are much more successful, especially Canady’s portrayal of the real-live Sarah Baartman, known as the Hottentot Venus, a South African woman brought to London in the early 19th century and displayed as a freak show exhibition due to her unusually large buttocks.  In Canady’s play, Baartman serves as a precursor to the ass-obsessed hip hop culture, a fetish that has gone from low-budget rap magazines to million-dollar reality television.   

 

In her portrayal of Baartman, Canady suggests that this standard of beauty—increasingly the norm in music, film, and fashion—is as much mockery as it is admiration.  Furthermore, Canady reveals that this mockery-disguised-as-admiration can extend to race and class as well, as society at large consumes the most superficial trappings of hip hop culture.  While feminist themes in independent theatre might seem heavy-handed this many years after the beginning of the third wave, Canady gives a glimpse of a roiling fourth wave, one indicting the men and women who gawk at these caricatures of beauty, wealth, and racial identity even when they should know better.  The PhD in cultural studies, the prep-school white girl, the Oprah-like talk show host, the subway Romeo quoting bell hooks—all of them have fun buying into a culture from which they’re safely removed.  It’s only when confronted with the reality of actually becoming the thing that they condescendingly emulate do they realize the thin line between Hottentot Venus and today’s video vixens.

 

 

While the production is sparse, and the task of playing so many characters leaves many of them one-dimensional, the ideas and themes in Girls! Girls? Girls. result in an interesting twist of social satire that updates the perspective of cultural concerns. Girls! Girls? Girls will show again Nov.  18 at 9 pm; Nov. 19 at 11 pm and Nov. 20 at 7 p.m. -Brad Rhines

 

Ventriloquist Adrift

“Who the hell would want to see a show with one person?” asks Rick Mitchell in his one man show, Ventriloquist Adrift.  At times during this one-hour, multi-media show, one has to agree. 

 

 

It’s not that there’s anything wrong with Mitchell himself. To the contrary, his ventriloquism skills are adequate and, as an accomplished playwright, his material is more than competently written.  It’s just that it’s difficult at times to watch Mitchell manage so many balls in the air all alone. Ventriloquist Adrift is an ambitious piece, a mannequin act involving three dummies, more than 20 audio/visual cues, and audience participation. It spans a tumultuous time in American history, and strives to create moments of conflict and revelation in the characters' personal history as well. Mitchell and his mannequins talk blackface and integration, and lament the rise of talking pictures in the old theatres. This last point is not without irony, as Mitchell’s show includes several shorts filmed in sepia tone of both live actors and mannequins. These asides, along with some slideshows and music, occasionally add to the texture of the piece, but more often than not the cues were clumsily handled, prompting Mitchell to ask for his cues at least half a dozen times. 

 

Provided that the technical hiccups can be smoothed in future performances, the stark space in Mardi Gras Zone’s warehouse (2706 Royal St.) was otherwise a fine venue for this show. Mitchell, in a suit and fedora, looks timeless beneath the rows and rows of packed cardboard boxes. He struggles to control his three mannequins, as well as his narrative, and despite genuine moments of humor, reflection, and pathos, Mitchell does seem adrift in his subject matter, never quite sure if he’s in a comedy or a tragedy. The few minutes on stage with volunteers from the audience brought needed comic relief, and with so many artists gathered in one space, Mitchell’s bound to get another volunteer as charismatic as Madison Cripps of Asheville’s Toybox Theatre and Cripps Puppets, whose cameo was refreshing and well handled by Mitchell.

 

While the final moments of Ventriloquist Adrift are satisfying and moving, the meandering path to get to that closure can be at turns awkward, hilarious, uncomfortable, and borderline offensive. Be sure to leave the kids at home for this puppet show, as there are several images and scenes of puppets engaged in very adult behavior. The show runs again Nov. 18 at 5 p.m., Nov. 19 at 9 p.m. and Nov. 20 at 7 p.m. -Moxie Sazerac

 

 

Hip-Hop is Alive

 

It’s got a good beat, and you can dance to it, but Hip Hop is Alive strives to be more than just pop candy.  The show, created by New Orleans-based performer Davida Chanel, features a rotating cast of DJs providing the soundtrack for five short vignettes using dialogue inspired by hip-hop lyrics

 

On opening night, the in-house DJ was New Orleans scene stalwart Raj Smoove, and future performances will feature beats by E.F. Cuttin and Tony Skratchere.  Having seasoned vets on the wheels of steel - along with a great sound system - gives the show an air of professionalism even before the curtain opens, and the level of production remains high throughout.  Actors like Nicole Collins, an on-air personality at WQUE Q93, and Chuck Jones, better known as hip-hop artist Lyrikill, have plenty of experience performing for audiences and both seem right at home on the stage of Café Istanabul (2372 St. Claude Ave.), a sparkling new venue at the N.O. Healing Center designed specifically for small theatre.

 

 

The vignettes recreate scenes from everyday life that take place in barber shops, coffee shops, and church pews, and the dialogue leans heavily on lines and rhymes from hip-hop songs, reflecting the strong connection between music and life for fans of the genre. While the production values are high, the script, unfortunately, rarely rises above the gimmick. The original writing mostly serves to connect stray lines of lyrics, and the scenes sometimes play out like one long in-joke where hip-hop fans see the rhymes coming a mile away.  To be fair, there’s a lot of fun in recognizing favorite songs, and the opening night crowd often shouted the lines along with the actors, but the joy of being in on the joke ultimately seems like a shallow pleasure that prevents the play from treading the more serious ground it seems to aspire to.

 

The exception is the final scene, which features Treme actor Gian Smith as a preacher, delivering a sermon about overcoming his own faults to become a better person. The sermon is well-written and Smith commands the crowd.  Much of the content in this scene comes from the work of Kanye West, and in the context of Smith’s monologue the inherent rhymes work much better than in the context of three friends chatting over coffee. The premise of the show is well-suited to this final act. 

 

While Hip Hop is Alive might showcase more style than substance, the style is alluring and expertly conveyed, giving the audience a romp through hip-hop history in theatrical form. The show runs Nov. 18 at 11 p.m., Nov. 19 at 7 p.m. and Nov 20, at 5 p.m. -Brad Rhines

 

Welcome to Desire

 

Welcome to Desire is a prototypical example of what a New Orleans Fringe play should be. Director Nari Tomassetti and her local troupe (the Tally-Ho DareDevils) have reimagined Tennessee Williams’ NOLA classic, A Streetcar Named Desire into an original work. The play’s sexual elements have been distilled and then inserted into a world with the aesthetic of a David Lynch dream sequence, and the physical movement of Ringling Brothers’ third ring. In short, she has tamed the spirit of the Quarters for just long enough to place it on a stage.

 

 

High camp coupled with circus stunts are a tightrope to walk, and a few sputters during the opening dance sequence made us all wonder if we were in for a night of Midway games that you just can’t win. However, acrobatics aside, Welcome is still a play, and most pays rely most on plot and acting. The plot was the familiar story of the Sisters DuBois, and the brutish Stanley Kowalski, a story that time has shown to be more than adequate. The acting made the play. 

 

 

Dennis Monn is one of the City’s least conventional actors, often appearing in drag, but he is also becoming one of the city’s best actors. At his Allways Lounge (2240 St. Claude Ave.), Monn sheds the boa for an animalistic (literally) Stanley clad in a wolf’s ma ne, and oozing lust at every glance. His lines, including a Brando-esque shouting of Stella, are delivered with sincere emotion and subsequent force. Yet, Monn’s skills are most apparent when he is not speaking; the lustful looks he throws the other characters, and the self satisfied smurks that accompany his mischief are the true manifestation of his talent.

 

 

Pam Robeerts also shines as the troubled Blanche. She starts slow, but as the play mutates from the Williams script, it becomes more and more about the surreal inner workings of Blanche’s mind as represented by a commanding Roberts. She dominates the stage when delivering her fantastical monologues and performs an incredible song and dance number showcasing a voice that deserves the atagetime.

 

 

Mitch is portrayed by Andy Overslaugh as a lion tamer, allowing for some comic relief. Stella (Andrea Duhe a.k.a. Oops the Clown) serves mainly as a recipient for Stanley and Blanche’s lines. Whether this positioning was Williams original intent or not is up for debate, but we would have liked to see this facet explored also. Matt Bell’s original score is also worthy of note. Rifffing off simple classic likes the Itsy Bitsy Spider the music provides a well composed and performed accompaniement.

 

 

Welcome is not without fault. The sexual nature can be a little over the top. For example, a fully nude Blanche is rubbed down with white cream by two alleycats. Likewise, the dancing needs a few more rehearsals. The play can be enjoyed as a free standing piece, but a background knowledge of Streetcar definitely enhances the experience.

 

 

The director really breaks down the fourth wall between each act when she walks on stage and distributes food to the audience. Yet, when the last tamale is chewed, and the lights drop again, the line does not seem so clear. And, here is the brilliance of the work. Welcome manages to take Streetcar, a play about New Orleans that could be set anywhere, and cement it firmly in downtown New Orleans, in the current, tossed off world of the St. Claude corridor. With its acrobatics and costumes, the play is no doubt entertaining, but more significantly, it is believable. Welcome to Desire shows Nov. 17 at 7 p.m., Nov. 18 at 9 p.m., Nov. 19 at 9 & 11 p.m. and Nov. 20 at 5 & 9 p.m. -Lancey Howard

 

 

 

 

 

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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

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Alexis Manrodt


B. E. Mintz


Stephen Babcock

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