Thursday, February 5, 2009

Frontera Fest Short Fringe, Hyde Park Theatre, February 3

The Hyde Park Theatre house was full last Tuesday and once again the staff put down an additional front row of folding chairs. It was a varied and, ultimately, a rich evening.

Collin Bjork's (Dys)Connected opened with four actors doing a choreographed stamp around the stage, for no obvious reason other than, perhaps, to make sure that the audience was paying attention. The story is a one-quirk exploration, in which a mom, Martha (Natalie Sharpe), is so loquaciously enamored of her portable phone that she pays no attention to daughter Eleanor (Angela Moore) and in fact wonders out loud repeatedly why the daughter hasn't said a word in months. We're clued pretty quickly that Eleanor does try to speak but gets no hearing from mommy Martha. When avid consumer Mom wanders off into a shop to examine a red camisole, Eleanor wanders off to listen to a fairly unconvincing thoughtful spiel by a fairly unconvincing Homeless Person (Brad Murphy). Mom, discovering Eleanor gone, accuses everyone but herself and gets into a phone quarrel with exasperated husband George (Paul Anderson). All turns out well in the end. Credits on this one go to Paul Anderson as George and to the diminutive Angela Moore as the child. Natalie Sharpe carries the narrative in a whirlwind of words. The message, reinforced by stalking actors with portable phones: we just don't listen.

In Edges: Reflections on Female Identity, Amy McAndrew and Cindy Vining under the direction of Johanna Whitmore serve up a sweet-and-sharp buffet for the feminine condition. The single song (Rain and Snow, sung by Dry Branch Fire Squad) and five pieces take such remarkably different approaches that the effect is a bit like dipping repeatedly into a box of Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans. Have a taste of - -

  • A formal debate in which it is asserted alterately that a) Angelina Jolie or b) Jennifer Aniston is the most effective embodiment of Woman;
  • a time-warped exchange between Joan of Arc and her inquisitor over Joan's failure to embrace scrapbooking;
  • an adopted girl calling her birth mother for the first time, to announce that she's pregnant and in trouble;
  • a mom's repugnance and then growing fascination with the kid's playing Grand Theft Auto; and
  • a scene from Sophocles' Ajax, with a single woman as chorus as Ajax (Michael Lee) in his delirium slaughters the sheep. Surprising, thought-provoking and unusual.
Surprising, thought-provoking and unusual.

Austin bard David Jewell took the stage to great acclaim (maybe he's the reason the house was so crowded?). He did not disappoint. Dressed in a spiffy red jacket and clutching his red portfolio of clown poems, Jewell explored the quirkiness of a universe in which clowns are really people (or people are really clowns, take your pick). His blank verse is stark and witty, his stories tickle your fancy, and his utter seriousness about the utterly unreal is droll and seductive.

Marcella Garcia laid it all out in My Darkness. My Inheritance. She tells a long, involved story reaching back to the age of five when something very bad happened in her family and her relatives evidently expected her to understand it by some kind of osmosis. Garcia is slim and intense, carrying her striped box of many colors with sundry props, and her emphatically non-theatrical presence argued strongly that she was relating the truth and nothing but. Her writing was vivid, funny, thoughtful, appalling and convincing -- as she paced about the stage she provoked cackles from the audience, sympathy, horrified silence and, at the end, huge applause. Was this psychotherapy? It hardly matters. I was totally seduced by her fierce innocence and her patent vulnerability. For me, the best of the evening.

McSki, Confessions of A Couch Potato was a totally trivial character piece, written and performed with gusto by Bill Johnson with direction by Tim Mateer. Johnson had all the assurance and huge stage presence that Marcella Garcia lacked. We were all tickled at his concept of a "Couch Potatos Anonymous" with a membership of one, and a 12-step program that involves 6 steps to the refrigerator and back again. We ascended with him solo into the hazy revelations of a universe where physics is ruled by unknown particles, imagined by our cocooner to include "positivicles" and "optimisticles." And when Johnson boogies, he boogies -- to the great delight of the audience. This was fun.

No comments:

Post a Comment