Fringe & Purge

Sweet and Lo-Fi: At Fringe, Inspiration and Professionalism Aren’t Always Found in the Same Place


Eight years into the Capital Fringe Festival’s DIY incursion into D.C. theater, we’ve more or less got a handle on what “Fringe” means. (Not “featuring nudity,” although that notion is oddly persistent.) The word signals to theatergoers that more will be required of them than in a year-round, professional playhouse—not just a greater tolerance for heat, hard chairs, lousy acoustics, and long bathroom lines, though these remain signifiers of the commitment of the audience that the festival has cultivated, and steadily grown, since 2006.

But a more relaxed set of aesthetic standards? Not so much these days. The 126 productions on offer this year—well, the 19 I saw—seemed to possess an even greater breadth of imagination and higher level of professionalism in presentation than the slate at past Capital Fringes.

But at Fringe, those two attributes—inspiration and craft—seem to coexist in a state of perpetual tension. Genius and polish are often mutually exclusive. This year, a rising tide of both seemed to lift all, but inspiration had the advantage. It was heartening to witness, and it left me feeling sunny about the health of the performing community in D.C. and beyond.

The shows I responded to most this year were the ones that seemed to me to reach highest, and occasionally beyond their grasp. But so what? Biting off only what you can chew is for, well, professionals.

Once again, the lineup seemed somewhat resistant to categorization beyond the official festival guide’s basic demarcators: Comedy! Dance! Drama! Like animals boarding an ark, the shows came in pairs: two monologues by veterans dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder, two solo shows about performers’ troubled sexual histories, two funny compilations of scenes of violence and death from various Shakespeare plays. (And that’s in addition to two discrete productions of Romeo and Juliet.)

Read more Sweet and Lo-Fi: At Fringe, Inspiration and Professionalism Aren’t Always Found in the Same Place

PurgeCast EXTRASODE! Gabriel Swee & Briana Manente from Pick of the Fringe Best Comedy Winner The D.C. State Players Present Agamemnon

Producer/actor Gabriel Swee and actor Briana Manente discuss The D.C. State Players Present AGAMAMENON, voted Best Comedy in the Pick of the Fringe Awards at the 2013 Capital Fringe Festival.

FURTHER READING: Brett Abelman's review of The D.C. State Players Present Agamemnon.

PurgeCast EXTRASODE! Director’s Award Winner Vaughn Irving of Disco Jesus and the Apostles of Funk

Vaughn-IrvingCo-composer & actor Vaughn Irving discusses Disco Jesus and the Apostles of Funk, one of two recipients (with The Clocks) of the Director's Award at the 2013 Capital Fringe Festival.

FURTHER READING: Ryan S. Taylor's review of Disco Jesus and the Apostles of Funk.

PurgeCast EXTRASODE! Director Carl Brandt Long & Playwright Hunter Styles of Tell Tale, Pick of the Fringe Winner for Best Drama

CBL-&-Hunter-StylesDirector Carl Brandt Long and playwright Hunter Styles discuss their play Tell-Tale, which was voted Best Drama in the Pick of the Fringe Awards at the 2013 Capital Fringe Festival.

FURTHER READING: Alexis Hauk's review of Tell-Tale.

PurgeCast EXTRASODE! Director’s Award Winners Jason Patrick Wells & Jacy Barber of The Clocks

Jason Patrick Wells and Jacy Barber of Not a Robot Theatre Company, winners of the Director's Award in the 2013 Capital Fringe Festival, discuss their show The Clocks.

FURTHER READING: Sophia Bushong's review of The Clocks.

PurgeCast EXTRASODE! Pick of the Fringe Best Movement & Physical Theatre winner Brynn Tucker of A Guide to Dancing Naked

Brynn-Tucker-7.28.13Brynn Tucker talks about developing her show A Guide to Dancing Naked, which was voted Pick of the Fringe for Best Movement & Physical Theatre in the 2013 Capital Fringe Festival.

Rachel Kurzius' review of A Guide to Dancing Naked.

A Kind of Magic: Creating The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs: The Musical

Promotional art for "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs: The Musical."

Mike Daisey is one of the world’s most gifted talkers. If you’ve ever seen him perform, as he has on many occasions since 2008 here in DC at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, or perhaps heard one of his two, very different, appearances on This American Life last year, you’ll know that one of his tools is silence. When you’ve made a 15-year career out of speaking to paying crowds for 90 to 150 minutes at a time, and occasionally much longer, you learn what a pause can do for you.

So why not take Daisey’s most-heard and most-discussed work, The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, and fill it with music? According to Daisey, the show has been adapted for roughly 80 productions on six continents since he posted a transcript of the monologue on his website in February 2012 and gave his blanket permission for anyone to adapt and perform it, royalty-free. But none of them has been a full musical.

Timothy Guillot wrote the book, music and lyrics for the sung-through version, which premiered in the Capital Fringe Festival and has its final performance this afternoon.

Read more A Kind of Magic: Creating The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs: The Musical

Hip Shot: Tragedy Averted

Shakespeare's doomed heroines go to camp in "Tragedy Averted."

Shakespeare's doomed heroines go to camp.

The Shop

Remaining Performance:
Sunday, July 28. But sold out.

They say:  "What if the tragic heroines of Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, King Lear and Othello had brunch? In Tragedy Averted, Ophelia, Juliet, Cordelia and Desdemona air their grievances and maybe even find a way to avert their tragedies."

Rebecca's Take:

Certain Fringe shows can draw an audience by premise alone. And certain shows can draw an audience by playwright alone. Combine those two popularity factors, and you have Tragedy Averted, Washington Post columnist Alexandra Petri’s comedy about what happened when four of Shakespeare’s heroines got sent to sleepaway camp together. (Apparently that original idea for them to go to brunch didn't work out.)

Still, if you scored a ticket, lucky you. I kept getting deferred, hence this late review. But what we have to say is what you can already guess: Tragedy Averted is very, very funny. It is also gratifying ego-trip for all the Bard nerds in Washington, of which, judging by the number of year-round theaters in town that regularly produce Shakespeare, there are legions.

Our story begins one dark and stormy night along the watchtower in Denmark. No wait. That’s Hamlet. Tragedy Averted begins one dark night in a place far from Elsinore, with Ophelia running late for a sleeping bag soiree. Juliet, Cordelia and Desdemona are already huddled up with flashlights and REI travel sacks. Time to play, “Never, Ever, Ever!”

Hands up! Everybody ready? Who’s never, ever, ever kissed a boy? Ophelia puts her hand down. Gasp!

“Oooo!” Squeals Juliet, as played by Stephanie Lebolt with unabashed spirit-fingers enthusiasm. “Was it Haaammm-let?”

It was! Even in the darkened, in-the-round environs of the Shop, we can that see Ophelia (Megan Graves) is blushing. And she spills it: They locked lips after his dad's funeral! Read more Hip Shot: Tragedy Averted

PurgeCast #17: Tragical Mirth, Landlocked Fish, Hardboiled Private Eyes

Pat O'Brien in "Underneath the Lintel."

Pat O'Brien in "Underneath the Lintel."

FEATURING: Rebecca J. Ritzel! Camilla Domonoske! Rachel Manteuffel! Look what I do for you, dear listeners.

DISCUSSED: The Tragical Mirth of Love and Marriage: Short Scenes by Chekov; A Guide to Dancing Naked; Fish Outta Water; Underneath the Lintel; Detective Pimbley and the Case of the Rich, Dead Lady.

DISCOVERED: The Librarian is a made-for-cable adventure film franchise starring E.R.'s Noah Wylie. Ritzel's mom points out errors in the newspaper.

CONFESSED: I had not read, or at least could not remember having read, Anton Chekhov's The Seagull when I reviewed its brilliant update, Aaron Posner's Stupid Fucking Bird, at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company earlier this summer! Although I went back and read it (or possibly re-read it) afterwards! And then saw the play again! Also, Ritzel gave National Symphony Orchestra Associate Conductor Emil de Cou a Fringe button so he wouldn't have to pay an extra $7 to see Yvonne Carruthers' In Search of the Perfect G-String.

DISCLOSED: I had to bribe Ritzel with a CD she wanted to get her to do this.

FURTHER READING: My semi-informed review of Stupid Fucking Bird.


Hip Shot: From the Ground Up

Ground UpGala Theatre at Tivoli Square

Remaining Performance:

Sunday, July 28, 2:00 p.m.

They say: "From ancient Egypt to modern day Austria, Bowen Macaulay Dance explores the environmental influence on movement and movement choice in both Afoot in Vienna and in the theatrically-arresting Fire and Air, based on the final act of Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra."

Cara's Take: This performance is short.  The two pieces take up slightly more than thirty minutes, with the bulk of the time belonging to Afoot in Vienna, the second piece danced.
The opening dance is titled Antony and Cleopatra and adapted from William Shakespeare's play. The piece begins with Cleopatra (Lucy Bowen Macauley, who also choreographed both works) sitting on one side of the stage while Marc Antony (Alvaro Palau) dances a brief solo.  Their inspiration is a line in Act V of the play: "I am fire and air; my other elements I give to baser life."   Macauley's Cleopatra has verve and vividness, but her movements, often stylized with squared arms to look hieroglyphic, are grounded and fluid.  This dance is set within her tomb at the moment of her suicide.  Cleopatra's servants, Iras and Charmian, are preseent, which gives an opportunity for pas de trois.  The attendants support her, physically as well as figuratively, as Cleopatra is bitten by the asp, suffers, and dies.  Upon their departure, the spirits of Antony and Cleopatra reunite with a lovely pas de deux.  The sound mix was sometimes overpowering during this piece, which distracted from the movement.

Read more Hip Shot: From the Ground Up