Mason Jarred: Was a Piece About Freemasons Too Fringey for Capital Fringe?


Andy Baroch had a pencil sharpener shaped like the Washington Monument in one hand, and a hammer in the other.

As he pummeled the tiny obelisk into the grass by the Capitol Reflecting Pool, the hammer’s head flew off. The mini-monument stayed intact, though covered in dirt. “This gives me no pleasure,” he said, as the remaining audience dissipated.

Baroch was concluding his Capital Fringe Festival show Secrets of the National Mall, which was classified as “storytelling” in the 2014 festival guide (although within the larger “drama” section) and described thusly: “Radio news reporter reveals the secrets of the Freemasons, the underground fraternal organization which designed the National Mall. Join his walking tour to hear the shocking truth!”

Few audiences would get to. After the first weekend, tickets for Secrets of the National Mall were no longer available for purchase on the Fringe website, even though it had originally been scheduled for 22 performances, more than any other show in the festival. Was it simply too fringe for Fringe?

Thirteen people, myself included, assembled at the Capitol Reflecting Pool at 7 p.m. on the first Friday of the festival. They’d paid $17 for the privilege, in addition to the mandatory $7 button required for entry to any Fringe venue ($5 if you bought it early enough). I got to go for free, because I was reviewing it for Fringeworthy. Baroch, our ostensible tour guide, had us sit in the grass with a clear view of the Washington Monument. It was time to explain why the National Mall is actually the largest hieroglyph in the world.

“What is it?” he asked us in a deep baritone, gesturing at the Washington Monument. “What is it?”

The audience threw out ideas—an obelisk? No. A penis? Nope.

“It’s a dildo,” said Baroch.

Read more Mason Jarred: Was a Piece About Freemasons Too Fringey for Capital Fringe?

We’ve Got to Get Out of This Place: Notes on Capital Fringe’s Last Year at the Fort

Move Me two miles east. (Paul Gillis)

Move Me two miles east (Paul Gillis)

“We want the cops to come,” Julianne Brienza boasted to the audience at the Baldacchino Gypsy Tent Bar Sunday night, as she prepared to announce the ninth Capital Fringe Festival’s award winners. “We want them to try to shut us down.”

But five hours later—still an hour before the beer garden closed its gates on New York Avenue NW for the last time—the place was pretty quiet, and no law enforcement had intervened. The last big group of us, about a dozen, all seated in the area cordoned off from the sidewalk by a yellow plastic chain, packed it in a little before 1 a.m. For the six years prior, a group of diehards had always remained on the festival’s closing night to shut the bar down, but this time, it was like we’d all already accepted it was time to move on.

Capital Fringe has a $1.65 million payment due on its new home at 1358 Florida Ave. NE on Oct. 1. At the closing ceremony, Brienza announced that the Share Fund of the Community Foundation for the National Capital Region had pledged a donation to the festival of $1 million—a big step toward paying the estimated $9.2 million total for the new space, which includes renovation expenses and an operating reserve. When I follow up with Brienza to confirm the award, she says Fringe will make half of it a matching grant, meaning the festival will return $500,000 if another donor doesn’t pledge another $500,000.

Fringe’s job this year was to impress potential donors. To the community of artists and patrons (and artist-patrons) that's returned to it with an admirable rate of recidivism in the six years since the festival installed itself at the former A.V. Ristorante Italiano, its bonafides and its bummer-fides have been long established. The festival is trying to turn some of these folks into financial backers, with a $10,000 capital campaign that runs through Aug. 7. With suggested donation levels of $1, $20, $50, and $250, this one isn’t just targeted at the well-to-do subset of Fringe fans.

In its ninth iteration, the festival felt like more of the same, in a pleasant if unexciting way: The across-the-board uptick in quality that became evident in 2010 or 2011 was preserved, although there seemed to be more cancellations than usual, with four shows scotching their entire runs and Fringe opting to end a fifth, Secrets of the National Mall, following customer complaints. Read more We’ve Got to Get Out of This Place: Notes on Capital Fringe’s Last Year at the Fort

The FringeCasting Couch #7 — With (75 Percent of) the cast of You, Or Whatever I Can Get

FEATURING: Vaughn Irving! (Pictured at left.) Farrell Parker! (Pictured at right.) Doug Wilder! (Pictured at top.)

DISCUSSED: You, or Whatever I Can Get. Using a schematic method to write a musical that feels organic. Why an entire generation has passed since an original musical produced a hit pop song — though none of us thought to mention "Let It Go" from Frozen, because that's a movie, but it should probably still count. The unfailing hilarity of male nudity.

WE'RE SORRY: It's far too late for apologies, don't you think? But we're sorry, Jason Schlafstein. Also, I'm sorry for that thing I said about how "a musical seems like something that has an awful lot of moving parts to accommodate that many cooks," or whatever I said. This is a difficult language for me. I don't know how metaphors work.

REVEALED: Farrell and Suzanne Edgar, for all their considerable talent, only got cast after Vaughn and Doug's girlfriends both got other jobs. This fucking industry.

Fringe Music Preview: One Nation Under a Groove

Baldacchino Tent Bar – Fort Fringe

Tonight at 5:00 p.m.

Val's Take: The CooLots are one of Capital Fringe's repeat performers, this time bringing their funk-infused brand of rock and roll to give the festival a fiery conclusion. Their bass lines are formidable and the lyrical messages empowering and dangerous. The rock that they channel is the decidedly heavy; the women have clearly spent their fair share of time studying the greats of modern rock radio and now they're making the statement that their guitar riffs can be just as crunchy and their shouts can be just as loud. If you missed them last year, don't make that mistake again.

The other two bands on this bill let their funk shine a little more prominently. The Good Thing is an outright funk throwback from singer/bassist Kim Jade Fry's sultry alto ordering the crowd to "get funky" to the appropriately skronky guitar riffs. Meanwhile, Water Seed refer to their style as "musical gumbo" as there's a wide mix of stylistic elements (note the soulful vocals, Caribbean percussion and Afrobeat-esque horn section), but they're all tinged with the overarching inspiration of Bourbon Street.

Fringe Play For Which They're The Best Fit: That Kind of Girl. Although all three bands have strong female representation and the CooLots are decidedly feminist, this play wears its feminism a little differently and more vehemently. That said, both performances will use music to make strong socio-political statements.

Hip Shot: Giant Box of Porn

The cast of "Giant Box of Porn" at the Capital Fringe preview (Paul Gillis)

The cast of "Giant Box of Porn" at the Capital Fringe preview (Paul Gillis)


Remaining Performances:

Sunday, July 27th at 6:00 p.m.

They Say: Young couple Ron and Kate return home to find a giant box of porn in their living room. This comedy explores life’s most important questions: What kind of burglar breaks in and leaves porn? Is it okay to buy baby paraphernalia just because it’s on sale? And, most importantly, who still has a VHS player?

Joseph’s Take: A giant box of porn might be the best inciting incident of the theatre. It’s certainly the perfect setup for a surrealist comedy—some smutty whodunnit—but in this sharp production from Field Trip Theatre, it’s also the best domestic drama at this year’s Capital Fringe Festival.

In truth, that couple’s conventional investigation into the origin of the box of pornographic VHS tapes doesn’t last long. The police are uninterested, albeit entertained. The apartment doorman is useless. Google is NSFW, as Kate (Anna Jackson) discovers trying to figure out if delivering giant box of porn is a meme like planking or icing. Porning? Hey, we could make that a thing.

Ron (Grant Cloyd) believes that he can unlock the origins of the box if he can just solve the puzzle of its contents. But with fatherhood on the horizon and a vacation a week away, there’s a clock (or is it a bomb?) ticking.

There’s a little bit of CBS sitcom behind the setup: Ron as the unmotivated husband, Kate as the go-getter wife a few degrees too hot for him, Sherlock (Will Hayes), as Ron’s next door neighbor with knocking problems. It’s a credit to playwright Patrick Flynn’s script that there’s no two-dimensional characters or cheap laughs. The one-bedroom apartment is a fully realized, intricately detailed world. It’s the offhand remarks that linger with me. Shelock loves that his girlfriend sends back food in restaurants. The newspaper editor Kate slept with in college was colorblind. Ron can’t resist Kate when she’s wearing “the shirt”. Read more Hip Shot: Giant Box of Porn

Hip Shot: Relationsh!t


Bedroom – Fort Fringe

Remaining Performances:

Sunday July 27, 3:45 p.m.

They Say: Awkward break-ups, fights with lovers, miscommunication with grandma: every relationship has its complications. Come explore the ups and downs of the human connection through sketch comedy. Take a big whiff of the truth: all relationships are a little shitty.

Val's Take: "Relationshit" might be a Freudian slip of the tongue, uttered in moments of frustration, but more often than not, it's a play on words that's spit out purposefully, followed by a tag like "am I right?" and meant to pick up a cheap and easy laugh. The remainder of the jokes aren't nearly as hacky as the title, but this is definitely one of the more lighthearted offerings on the always fecund subject of relationships, and the play succeeds for not taking itself too seriously.

Although the play's description states "all relationships are a little shitty," this performance mostly deals with romantic relationships and the fallout thereof. A horndog grandmother makes a brief and hilarious appearance, and there are a few sketches that illuminate how relationships between friends can veer toward the uncomfortable, but for the most part, these sketches actually explore (okay, skewer) one type of relationship in multiple ways. Don't go into this expecting to see fights between siblings or re-enactments of unfortunate co-worker scenarios. Read more Hip Shot: Relationsh!t

The FringeCasting Couch #6 — Critics’ Panel, on the Best and Worsts of Capital Fringe 2014

FEATURING: Brett Abelman! Camila Domonoske! Joseph Price!

DISCUSSED: Breast in Show. Waiting for Armageddon. Giant Box of Porn. You, or Whatever I Can Get. A Fire in Water. Refresh: Stories of Love, Sex, and the Internet. The Dish.

WE'RE SORRY: We couldn't remember offhand the names of all the creators of the marvelous You, or Whatever I Can Get, which for the record was written by Suzanne Edgar, Vaughn Irving, Farrell Parker, Steve Przybylski, Jason Schlafstein, and Doug Wilder, directed by Schlafstein, composed by Irving and Przybylski, and performed by Edgar, Irving, Parker, and Wilder.

REVEALED: Camilia may think twice before accepting programming recommendations from Chris in the future.

Giant Box of Porn photo from the Capital Fringe preview event © Paul Gillis Photography

Fringe Music Preview: Chain and the Gang

Baldacchino Tent Bar – Fort Fringe

Tonight at 8:30 p.m.

Val's Take: Chain & the Gang, the sassiest band in America, has returned from their European tour, shiny blazers and funky bass lines intact, and they're touching down at Capital Fringe with the intent of showing that Minimum Rock and Roll, to cite the name of their current album, does not mean minimum enjoyment. Indeed, there's a sense of distillation in the last batch of Ian Svenonius-penned tunes. The recordings sound very stark and bare, which effectively highlights every element of the songs; no note nor beat fades into the background. Minimum Rock and Roll is also a sharp commentary on the state of society including an opener, "Devitalize," that has an anti-big development message right in tune with Capital Fringe's advertising campaign.

As this is a Svenonius-curated event, that ensures that the two other acts on the bill embody the vitality of rock and roll songs. Vermont act The Lentils doesn't have any music online, but their description of "bizarre and quirky pop with hooks," makes sense considering that Happy Jawbone, the previous project from creative leader Luke Csehak, sounds like a goofy, lo-fi trip through Wonderland soundtracked by kazoos. Meanwhile, Boston outfit Fat Creeps shows up with immediately enjoyable hooks and pleasant vocal harmonies that differentiates itself from other lo-fi surf rock acts by adding a bit of an edge, either with their lyrical content or by suddenly flying off the handle with shrieks and instantly fast riffing.

Fringe Play For Which They're The Best Fit: Will Work ForThere's nothing else on the Fringe lineup short of the guerrilla advertising sign about "gentrifier's guilt" that quite matches the ideals of Minimum Rock and Roll, but this very honest if somewhat pessimistic look at the job market might come close.

Hip Shot: Point…Blank…Period!


Gallery – Goethe Institut

Remaining Performances:

Saturday, July 26, 6:45 p.m.

They Say: The crimson wave! The period demystified. Point. . . Blank. . . Period! is an insightful view on a woman's love/hate relationship with her period! Whether you're a man or woman, PBP will have you saying, "Once a month is more than enough!"

Val's Take: Director/cowriter/performer Tramaine Braithwaite knows that menstruation is a sticky subject that's often left out of polite conversation and she opens the play by addressing that stigma. One woman dares to talk, proudly!, about her period as another hastily tries to change the subject. It's clear that both sides of the conversation will be explored throughout the production: the awkwardness of the whole monthly ordeal (especially its pubescent inception) and the knowledge that the period is symbolic of both life on earth and womanhood. But as the two points of view are initially presented onstage: the pro-period argument is made with such over-the-top poetry as to immediately give on-the-fence audience members an  sinking feeling: Surely the whole hour won't be like this? Read more Hip Shot: Point…Blank…Period!

Hip Shot: La Llorona

La-lloronaFort Fringe — Bedroom

Remaining Performances:

Friday, July 25, 6:30 p.m.

Sunday, July 27, 1:45 p.m.

They say: Andy Walker, a public defense attorney, is assigned to defend Marina Renaldo, a woman accused drowning her two children. The two women begin to develop an unlikely friendship. Meanwhile at home Andy struggles to save her marriage, as she and her husband deal with the consequences of a miscarriage. Who is the real weeping woman?

Danny's Take: La Llorona, the weeping woman, distraught over her husband's departure, drowns her children in the river. Similar legends pop up all over the place. Today, bad parents tell their children this story of an even worse parent to keep them from misbehaving. Out of the shadow of this old folk tale steps La Llorona, an atmospheric new legal drama from playwright Amanda Zeitler and Three Candidates Graduate Theater Company.

It centers on an attorney, let’s call her Andy because that’s her name, set to defend Marina, who has been accused of drowning her two children in the bathtub. A third character, Andy’s insufferable husband Jude, shows up every other scene to be a douchebag, but he’s mostly unimportant. Sorry, trying to remain impartial. The three characters (well really the two women; get lost, Jude) find themselves on a downward spiral as the case rends their lives to pieces and forces them to confront the difficulties and sacrifices of motherhood. Read more Hip Shot: La Llorona