Fringeworthy

Hip Shot: Underneath the Lintel

Goethe Institut – Main Stage

Remaining Performances:

Thursday, July 25, 5:15 p.m.
Friday, July 26, 9:30 p.m.
Saturday, July 27, 8 p.m.
Sunday, July 28, 3 p.m.

They say: Best Solo Show: Minnesota and London (Ontario) Fringes. Starring film and TV veteran Pat O'Brien. A librarian finds a book 123 years overdue and embarks on a quest to apprehend the borrower. "Five out of five Stars!" —London Free Press

Alexis' Take: I really can't say much about playwright Glen Berger's Underneath the Lintel. Not because the 2001 work isn't a lovely—even astounding—little piece. With an equally matched actor at its helm in Pat O'Brien (who exudes a kind of Jack Lemmon energy), this is by far the best thing I've seen at Fringe this year.

No. I just can't say too much, because I don't want to rob you of the experience. Seeing the quiet, unostentatious way that the narrative comes together is its own reward. But because this is a review, here's this much: O'Brien plays a fastidious, quirky librarian who works in a small town in Holland, and he's on a quest to find the person responsible for returning a book that had been overdue for longer than a century. Read more Hip Shot: Underneath the Lintel

Hip Shot: Tell-Tale

Matthew Ward and Amal Saade get horizontal... in a vertical way... in Tell-Tale.

Fort Fringe – The Shop

Remaining Performances:

Wednesday, July 24, 7 p.m.
Thursday, July 25, 10:15 p.m.
Saturday, July 27, 10:45 p.m.

They say: "A car crash survivor discovers a strange connection to the woman whose blood now runs through his veins. Now he's on a dangerous mission to save her in this thrilling and magical riff on Poe's The Tell-Tale Heart."

Alexis' Take: Normally, I'm all for suspension of disbelief, but Hunter Styles' script features so much out-loud exposition–so much tell-taling–about what the characters are thinking, doing, feeling at all times ("And now I'm going here, and now I'm wondering this, etc.") that I just wanted to press mute button sometimes and suspend the dialogue.

Granted, when it comes to the plot of this Grain of Sand Theatre production, more exposition might not be a bad thing. Tell-Tale is less a riff on Baltimore's Lauded Lush of Laudanum (Edgar Allan Poe's professional wrestling name) and more a mesh of more recent pop culture vampire lore, with elements that recall Buffy the Vampire Slayer and True Blood. Something about how a woman has magical blood that can bring people back from the brink of death, though at the expense of her sanity and well-being. Why? Because she can see/feel those whom she's saved. I mean, isn't that how Bill and Sookie hooked up in the first place? (Incidentally, most of the people she has saved seem to be stereotypes, like a loud, obnoxious New Yorker.)

One glaring problem is Tell-Tale's lead female character, Charlie, a "newswoman" who is married to lead male character, Logan, who is laid up recovering from a mysterious heart operation. She treats this less as something that affects the man she loves and more as something she needs to get the big scoop on. Read more Hip Shot: Tell-Tale

Hip Shot: Hello, You Assholes!

Fort Fringe – The Shop

Remaining Performances:

Tuesday, July 23, 6 p.m.
Saturday, July 27, 7 p.m.

They say: "A musical comedy featuring award-winning original rock songs and dialogue reminiscent of Woody Allen's early work, Hello, You Assholes! follows a collection of partygoers as they share their hopes, dreams and obsessions while searching for romance and redemption."

Alexis' Take: Dan Sperling is a little like the reprehensible character Michael Caine played in Hannah and Her Sisters, who, armed with thick glasses, a British accent, and a book of e.e. cummings poetry, inexplicably gets into his wife's sister's pants. I mean, what arts nerd wouldn't be seduced in a similarly questionable way by the false promise of an Woody Allen-esque musical? (Yes, I know that Allen directed a pretty crappy musical of his own once; I pretend it doesn't exist).

Musicals based off of unorthodox material have historically proved to be rollicking, life-affirming chucklefests. See Tonya and Nancy: The Rock Opera (about Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan) or Carrie: The Musical for proof. But Sperling's play is just like that sad-sack narcissist character Elliott (for which Caine won an acting Oscar)—not just because his play description seduces, but because the result of this affair is similarly disappointing. Read more Hip Shot: Hello, You Assholes!

Hip Shot: Wiggerlover

Gearbox

James Anthony Zoccoli's family in Evanston, Ill., courtesy of the Wiggerlover Facebook page.

Remaining Performances:

Tuesday, July 23, 6 p.m.
Thursday, July 25, 8:15 p.m.

They say: "Chicagoland, 1979: In this too-good-to-be-true story of one boy’s life in an interracial family, James Anthony Zoccoli recalls growing up as a half-Italian, half-Polish kid who wants to be Black when his White mom marries an African-American man. Hilarity ensues!"

Alexis' Take: Wiggerlover begins with James Anthony Zoccoli auditioning for a small part as a belligerent racist. Indeed, on IMDB, he is listed as "W. Virginia Heckler" in the Dennis Quaid sports movie The Express, about college football great Ernie Davis, first black Heisman Trophy winner.

We hear a voice overhead, of the director telling him how to inflect. Then, like something out of Louie, Zoccoli pivots forward with an arm swing, like he's about to doh-si-doh someone in square dancing, and yells with a twang, "Nigger lover!"

He does this several times. After each try, he steps back with an endearing, baffled shrug and a look of, "Did I get it this time?"

I describe this scene because it's a shocking, smart and funny, and an apt setup for the complex, challenging coming-of-age story that follows. In 1979, when Zoccoli's white mom wed the black man she loved, whose name was Orlandus Bell, interracial marriage had only been legal in the United States for 12 years. So young "Jimmy" certainly heard that slur enough times in real life–including from his biological father–to know what it's like to be on the receiving end of such hate, and to make fun of it. Read more Hip Shot: Wiggerlover

Hip Shot: Four Women

Studio Theatre, Stage 4

Remaining Performances:

Sunday, July 21, 6:30 p.m.
Thursday, July 25, 6:45 p.m.
Saturday, July 27, 2:30 p.m.

They say: "When singer Nina Simone created 'Four Women' she probably didn’t imagine it portrayed through movement, storytelling and laughter, but we did! Four Women goes beyond the lyrics, exploring black womanhood and its many dimensions. Not a performance, a journey."

Alexis' Take: "My skin is black. My arms are long. My hair is woolly. My back is strong. Strong enough to take the pain inflicted again and again..."

These are the opening lyrics to Nina Simone's powerful "Four Women," a song she wrote in 1966 that digs into and exposes pervasive black female stereotypes. The song, as far as Fringe is concerned, has inspired an ambitious but at times belabored 75-minute show that fleshes out Simone's lyrics and transfers them into the 21st century (which, depressingly, isn't always much better than it was for Simone, as labor statistics and, you know, pop culture problems indicate).

Employing multiple storytelling modes, from satirical sketches and spoken word to dance and singing, the four talented actresses present a refreshing show. Unfortunately, the show's writing and structure falters at times by trying to take on too much; giving us segments that focus specifically on every subject imaginable, including mental health, workplace discrimination, body image, and rape. When they come together as a whole, it makes for an uneven hour or so.

Read more Hip Shot: Four Women

Hip Shot: Big River (and Other Wayfaring Ballads)

Olivia Sabee, "Big River." Credit: Matt Costanza.

GALA Theatre at Tivoli Square

Remaining Performances:

Thursday, July 18, 6 p.m.

Saturday, July 20, 7:30 p.m.
Wednesday, July 24, 9:45 p.m.
Saturday, July 27, noon

They say: "Ballet with a fresh twist. 2012 Fringe Audience Award winner MOVEiUS premieres Big River, featuring music by the Man in Black. From sophisticated to spicy, classical to quirky, this athletic mixed-repertory program walks the line between classical and contemporary."

Alexis' Take: In an interview for American Songwriter Magazine shortly before he died, the one and only Johnny Cash gave this advice on crafting a song: "Write as clearly and plainly as you can... and try to convey your feelings in a simple, honest and straightforward way." So I imagine Cash would be pleased to learn, from whatever perch he and June occupy atop the heavenly Nashville skyline, that Diana Movius's ensemble took a similar approach with Big River, setting simple, honest movements to his soulful, fiery music.

Cash defied the country/western musical genre in much the same way that these dancers try to defy ballet. And some stabs are more successful than others— this could have done with more creative costuming than jeans and black shirts with a red bandana, which really feels more Born in the U.S.A. than "A Boy Named Sue."

Big River is not the most cutting-edge, eye-popping dance work you'll ever see. Choreographer Kimberly Parmer fares better when she's digging into a touching, slow love song like, "First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," which features Sarah Waldrop moving in slow, subtle ripples across the stage like a calmer stretch of the mighty Mississippi  (what's that? Is someone chopping onions nearby?). Read more Hip Shot: Big River (and Other Wayfaring Ballads)

Hip Shot: How to Be a Terrorist

Jimmy Grzelak sharing an anecdote about a master and a slave, which was told to him at Boy Scout camp.

Fort Fringe "The Bedroom"

Remaining Performances:

Tuesday, July 16, 7 p.m.
Thursday, July 18, 10 p.m.
Saturday, July 20, 2 p.m.

They say: "How to build a fire. How to treat shock. How to deal with piss in a sleeping bag. A one-man event with music, presented by Jimmy Grzelak, registered Eagle Scout. With music and scary stories."

Alexis' Take: Good on Williamstown, Mass., for temporarily lending us wunderkind of weird Jimmy Grzelak, whose quick-witted, keenly intelligent and completely warped one-man show How to Be A Terrorist weaves together narrative threads about the Boy Scouts of America, Al Qaeda, musical theater, sex and bullying, all in the span of 50 or so minutes.

What's revelatory is how effortlessly Grzelak intertwines these seemingly disparate worlds, to the point where you almost wish you'd made the connections yourself. He includes amazingly true quirky historical facts, for example, about the foppish Lord Robert Baden-Powell, one of the founders of the Boy Scouts, who performed The Pirates of Penzance in Afghanistan, and with whom Grzelak colorfully imagines roaming around the hills of Kandahar (where he says they'd accidentally step on and crush flowers occasionally but only to "do our part in the war on drugs").

The question at the core of this sparkly spider web of ideas is where is the line between angry, frustrated, smart kids and full-blown, indoctrinated killers? That the homicidal version doesn't look so dissimilar from the earlier manifestations (wanting to belong, to be recognized) is a not a new subject in art, but it's cunningly explored here nonetheless. Read more Hip Shot: How to Be a Terrorist

Hip Shot: Sanka, Ya Dead Mon?

Manu Kumasi as Ben, who gets high and watches "Cool Runnings" when under duress.

Chaos on F
Remaining Performances:
Tuesday, July 16, 6 p.m.
Saturday, July 20, 11:15 p.m.
Saturday, July 27, 1:30 p.m.

They say: "Meet Ben. Ben thought he was doing everything right when his world came crashing down around him. Join him on his journey and find out what the movie Cool Runnings could teach us about life."

Alexis' Take: Hell hath no fury like a child of the '90s falsely promised a Cool Runnings theatrical experience. At least, that's my personal motto after going in 100 percent primed to "feel the rhythm" and "feel the rhyme" of the Jamaican bobsled Doug E. Doug/John Candy classic, as it was advertised (okay and embellished in my fantasy-ridden brain) in Sanka's Fringe Guide description.

Disappointingly, over the course of this hour-long one man show, we instead get to hear only occasional clips from Cool Runnings, while following the story of the far less interesting Ben, a stock character office schmo whose running narrative about himself (the tedium of office and domestic life etc., etc.) sound like Kevin Spacey's lines from American Beauty run through the rinse cycle 100 times.

Surrounding Ben are some thoroughly unpleasant characters, every single one an instantly recognizable stereotype — the talkative Mexican coworker who squeals in a high-pitched thick Spanish accent! The fussy British boss named Geoffrey! The misogynistic bro best friend who's obese and a NY sports fan! The horrible girlfriend who makes Ben use Carly Rae Jepsen as a ringtone and whom has supposedly been with for six years even though she isn't very nice to him and isn't good at sex (okay!). Read more Hip Shot: Sanka, Ya Dead Mon?

Hip Shot: Kubrilesque

GALA Theatre

Remaining Performances:

Today, July 12 at 10:45 p.m.,

Saturday, July 13,5:30 p.m.

Saturday, July 20, 11:15 p.m.

Thursday, July 25, 8:30 p.m.,

Saturday, July 27, 12:15 a.m.,

Saturday, July 27 at 11 p.m.

They say: "A cohesive theatre experience combining different styles of dance and burlesque to tell the story of a director making his final film. The burlesque numbers thread together, as each piece parodies a different film from Stanley Kubrick."

Alexis' Take: Calling this much-hyped show "cohesive" is generous. Over the course of a little more than an hour, this greatest hits compilation zigzags randomly from one hit-you-over-the-head-obvious vignette to the next, like when "Spartica" removes her armor, piece by piece, to a heavy metal song. Or when Lolita skips around in creepy-sexy childlike outfits while wearing the famous Sue Lyon sunglasses, to a techno remix of that movie's instantly recognizable score (Wahh wahhh whoa whoa wahhh wahhh...).

But the plot that Cherry Kiss Productions has unnecessarily cobbled together to unite these scenes—a Jack Torrence type tries to make a movie, while various Kubrick characters are figments of his imagination—stumbles each time the actors struggle to recite (and often remember) dialogue. The less talk, the better.

Read more Hip Shot: Kubrilesque

The Other Brother: Inside RFK at Studio Theatre

Only a Kennedy could have a résumé rife with accomplishments—degrees from Harvard and the University of Virginia Law School, stints as presidential campaign manager, attorney general, and senator—and still remain, decades after his death, in the shadow of his big brother.

"Who was Robert Kennedy?" is a question not too often asked in pop culture. RFK wasn't president when he was assassinated, like his brother John F. Kennedy; he was killed following his defeat of Senator Eugene McCarthy in the 1968 California primary. RFK's less prominent stature could also have to do with JFK's famously soap opera-like personal life—the great cult of Camelot—to which RFK was largely peripheral.

“My mom shares a birthday with Marilyn Monroe,” says Ginger Dayle, director of RFK, a Capital Fringe show that opens this Saturday at Studio Theatre. She's describing how she was first plunged, as a kid, into the sad but glamorous saga of America’s royal family. But while JFK was one of the era's biggest sex symbols, Robert Kennedy had his own kind of appeal, too. Bobby "had girls waiting in line to touch his hair," Dayle says. "I even found an old Pantene commercial when he was running [for senate] in New York. People were lining up like they’re waiting for Justin Bieber."

RFK arrives on the heels of a successful run in Philadelphia with the New City Stage Company, which Dayle founded. The show stars Russ Widdall, whom—if you’re a giant TV nerd—you might recognize for brief roles in The Wire and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Widdall is also Dayle's romantic partner and co-artistic director at New City.

Playwright Jack Holmes, who labored for five years on RFK's script, opens with Bobby reading a Greek tragedy by the fire in August 1964, after Lyndon Johnson had informed him that he wouldn't choose Kennedy as his running mate in the 1964 election (the two had a long-running feud). Johnson’s rejection, and the promising political career and growing social awareness Kennedy developed after his brother's assassination, gave Holmes the dramatic arc he knew would help shape his telling of RFK's life.

Holmes says the importance of that summer of 1964 "was clear to me right from very early on when I started writing the play. I knew that the key moment, the most important moment of RFK’s life was when he found out that he wouldn’t be [Johnson's] running mate. Up until that point he’d been appointed to everything." Choosing to stay in politics—even though he must have been wary of the risk having just dealt with his brother’s killing—Kennedy crossed the line into fate, Holmes says. "There’s the old saying that a man meets his destiny on the road he took to avoid it." Read more The Other Brother: Inside RFK at Studio Theatre

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