The second night of Fringe bought a fresh round of premiers. NoDef was there to catch all the action and deliver a fresh round of reviews as well. Palindrome, Baghdad Puppies, Montana, Now and at the Hour, The Wake, and Professor Nakamoto's Nexus of Numbers are all tackled in this installation.
Palindrome (Zeitgeist, The Incredible Incredible)
By Phil Yiannapoulos
OC Haley’s Zeitgeist hosts Paliondrome, a wondrous mix of mime, sideshow, and live music. The show is produced by The Incredible Incredible, comprised of the two actors in the show, Justin Therrien and Matthew “Poki” McCorkle. As a veteran of the New Orleans Fringe, Poki has garnered a large following, nearly selling out the venue on the show’s opening night. Based on this initial performance, the crowds will only continue to grow.
The piece follows two characters, each the other’s imaginary friend through their first meeting. The actors do not speak. Instead they are accompanied by solo accordion/percussion player Lucas Hicks setting the auditory rhythm of the show. Hicks' music can range from sweet Parisian love ballads, to a diminished train-wreck, to fast-paced waltzes, always both highlighting and interacting with the two actors.
As for the performing duo, they take their time from the beginning. Simple actions such as simultaneously putting on a sock, a shoe, or a suspender are performed slowly and precisely enough to be funny. As the show develops, the two start interacting with each other, amazed with the other’s presence. This exploration often takes the form of one of the two performing a trick or a dance, and the other joining, matching, and then one-upping, only for that cycle to repeat. It becomes a tour-de-force of solo sideshow that seamlessly incorporates a second into a dance of physical theatre.
A few crowd favorites were a hat-snail, some nose/mouth antics, and Poki’s signature ring. If none of these things make sense, you’re doing alright. The show, apart from just being entertaining and impressive, is an expression of the imagination. While the two never speak, their sidelong glances and smiles to one another give the audience all the character that the show needs. It’s like what a kid wishes for when he’s stuck playing in the attic on a rainy day: magic, music, and a real imaginary best friend. Definitely up there for Best of Fringe.
Baghdad Puppies (Zeitgeist, Open Space Theatre)
By Phil Yiannapoulos
Hailing from North Carolina, Open Space Theatre brings Baghdad Puppies to the Fringe. The show exists as dark exploration of the treatment of gays and women during the United States occupation of Iraq. While the show's intentions are in the right places, namely bringing to light the atrocities human rights violations taking place, the production at times lags and passes the border of offensiveness.
The play focuses on the frustration of one US soldier during his third tour in Iraq. His disgust is focused on the treatment of homosexuals, or “puppies” in the Iraqi vernacular. He and his two fellow officers are camped on one side of the stage are flanked by the Iraqi populace of the production. Notably, only two of the locals are the violent militants responsible for torture and killings; the rest are pained citizens.
The premise is fine enough, but having a mostly twenty-something, mostly white cast try to imitate Arabic accents is off-putting. Not only serving to distance the viewer from the story (suspension of disbelief is one thing — constantly being reminded that you’re seeing an attempt to be an Other is different), the accents themselves seemed to range from British to Indian to vague Middle East stereotypes.
As for characters, none are really developed, save our US military friend on stage and his two militant foils. The other characters simply come to the front of the stage and relate their own personal horror. Again, the heart is in the right place, but the impact would have been the same (read better) by showing actual news from the day. Throughout the play the same mistake is made: it tells instead of shows.
While several contradictions on both sides are literally told to you in a kind of pageant — the actors spend a lot of time facing out, quoting the projected image of senators and Iraqi leaders — the play misses two huge events whose omission, again, only serve to offend. Discussing violence, international relationships, and attitude towards gays during the occupation of Iraq, one cannot simply omit the US military’s own contradictions of "Don’t Ask Don’t Tell" and the horrors of US-led torture of Iraqi citizens in Abu Ghraib prison in 2003.
The general preachiness of the play, combined with the noted omissions and an ending that pushes the audience to feel sympathetic towards the poor, confused US soldier is, at best, describable as childish and incomplete. Yet perhaps, if you have no idea of the goings-on in Iraq and want to hear some horror stories from the gay community there, this is a show for you.
Montana (NonProphet Theatre)
By Phil Yiannapoulos
Brought by the NonProphet Theatre company, “Montana” re-presents the story of Scarface as if written by Shakespeare himself. While this sounds like a dangerously bold choice — imitating the Bard with Cuban accents — the production’s fast-paced commitment to the ludicrousness of the premise and witty Elizabethan recreations hit a grand slam, having the audience splitting at the seams.
Literally following the movie arc for arc, only three characters are played by the same actors throughout — Tony Montana, his buddy Manny, and the dame Elvira. The rest of the seemingly endless characters are played by a talented ensemble, giving us Colombian drug dealers, hit men, Tony’s family, etc. By some sort of magic (aided by costume changes, of course) these new and somewhat recurring characters are easily identifiable and don’t confuse the viewer.
As for the three main characters, nothing but kudos for the actors (with no program, names are omitted here). Elvira’s actress plays the coked-out trophy wife with poise and wit; Manny is played with best-friend faith and hilarious bluntness. And a special shout out to the actor portraying Tony Montana for never breaking the breakneck pace and keeping with the Cuban Shakespearean accented verse.
The text, written by Robert A. Mitchell, forms the main glue of the show. Written in a mix of Elizabethan vernacular and Cuban slang, with direct quotes from several of Shakespeare’s plays sliding in seamlessly, even calling Scarface himself a “foul bunch-back’d toad” (funnier still if you know some other, famous Al Pacino roles). Even more impressive was the way the show kept hammering modern insults in the midst of the numerous thees and thous. If this seems like an easy trick that's because it is; but having it be consistently funny throughout an hour long piece speak wonders about the author’s ability for heightening, not to mention his patience.
Overall a hilarious romp through one of the classics — perhaps all of the classics. Seeing Scarface in this light really does highlight similarities with some of the Bard’s plays — the fast paced killing of Romeo and Juliet, the ambitions of Richard III, the collapse of plans in Macbeth. A rollicking good time for you — er, thee.
Now and at the Hour (Marigny Opera House)
By Andrew Mullins
Now and At the Hour is a play about time and memory through magician Christian Cagigal’s personal story about his Vietnam veteran father’s struggle with mental illness. Cagigal relates the good and the “not so good” from his childhood and experiences with his father, who immigrated from Spain while fleeing Franco. Growing up, they talked about time travel and ESP, and these conversations seeded Cagigal’s interest in magic. While his father struggled with PTSD, Cagigal would retreat to his room to practice his illusions.
Cagigal enjoys smudging the fourth wall. He begins by setting up an hourglass that gauges the length of the show and looms behind Cagigal. He mines audience member’s thoughts to identify aspects about their memories using a viewfinder his father gave him as a child after another manic episode. The toy can look through time, his father told him. Now and at the Hour is an engaging play about how memory and time play funny tricks on each other and can help illuminate the our ideas of the people with whom we shared the good times and bad.
Cagigal will retire Now and At the Hour after the New Orleans Fringe Festival. The play is scheduled for Friday night at 7pm, Saturday at 5pm, and Sunday at 11pm. Please check social media or the Fringe website for the location.
Professor Nakamoto’s Nexus of Numbers (Marigny Opera House)
By Ashley Rouen
Gregg Tobo is a magical entertainer with over 30 years of experience. His one-man show, Professor Nakamoto’s Nexus of Numbers, is about patterns which are derived from the universe actually speaking to us, says Tobo. Through his ability to memorize large amounts of random of information using the Method of Loci constructing a Memory Palace in his mind, Tobo amazes and confounds with his number tricks and the technique he uses to piece it all back together in the end.
During his performance, Tobo wearing a bow tie, and at times a blindfold of steel, reveals the mind of a mnemonist (person who can memorize large amounts of information). First he demonstrates a folding technique, calling upon the audience to pick numbers at random and writes them down on a sheet of paper in a four by four grid. Pick any three numbers on the grid, and they all add up to the same number… 98. He recalls this pattern throughout his performance interjecting bits of scientific and mathematic facts sure to excite the curious mind.
Touching on a range of ideas and historical figures from “Synesthesia” (a person who sees sounds and hears colors) to Dante’s Inferno and Mark Paul Roget, Professor Nakamoto’s Nexus of Numbers is a show of illusion like none other. The conclusion both satisfies and excites as Tobo takes you on a journey through his memory palace. We wouldn’t want to spoil his epic mnemonic tricks but there is a knight involved in one of them you won’t want to miss.
Last night’s performance (11.20) took place at the Hi Ho Lounge in lieu of the Marigny Opera House, which was shut down by the city for being fire hazard just days before the Fringe Festival started. Since the Marigny Opera House reopened today, Tobo’s demonstration revealing the magic of patterns will be held at its original venue.
The Wake (Old Firehouse)
By Andrew Mullins III
Ben Moraski’s The Wake is the perfect show for the introspective person blessed with a strong sense of gallow’s humor. The award winning dark comedy probes love, loss, and what we can realistically expect and demand from personal relationships. Pete, the only character, recounts his dalliance with a dead girl he ran over with his car after a warehouse party. The play-within-the-play begins as as acting workshop exercise, a paroxysm of dismay over losing one girlfriend. As Pete recounts his efforts to deal with the break up, the monologue morphs into a self-analysis of emotion and attachment. The fact that he works through these issues with the help and tenderness of a dead body is just part of the fun.
The Wake relies on subtle lines that allude to the dead girl for the audience while Pete seems absolutely delusional about the decaying state of his companion. Moraski is energetic and engaging, but has the tendency to overemphasize the “shits” and the “fucks” that overpower his otherwise shrewd and hilarious script.