Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Things in Life by Ben Prager, FronteraFest Long Fringe

Ben Prager's Long Fringe presentation carried the title "Things in Life," sufficiently enigmatic to cover just about anything that he might have wanted to do. The fest blurb advised only, "Actor/playwright Ben Prager uses a series of monologues to portray with unblinking realism a half dozen familiar types in various stages of life."

He deserved his artistic license, considering that he has written seven shows of monologues and his "Four Monologues" was picked as one of the "Best in Fest" at the 2008 FronteraFest Short Fringe.

Ben gives us a tour of Texas grotesques, individuals who are under stress or out of touch. His approach is to build a caricature and then to fill out that character's contours with emotion, often with pain. Prager's creative process is fascinating to watch, particularly for his plasticity of expression and his astounding mastery of accent and vocal nuance.

With little more than a folding chair, a couple of pools of light, his lanky body and his high-domed face, Ben Prager creates an icily xenophobic Texas matron, a dim redneck obsessed with the father who neglected him, a Walmart shopper still not quite able to grasp what happened to his huge and unhealthy wife, and a fabulously gay theatre and dance director who has fled into Star Wars/Christian delusionism in eastern Europe. There is acid in each of these portraits. You intuit Prager as author daring Prager as actor to make each of them believable despite their deformations. He succeeds in each case.

Other reviewers were taken by the final "Darth" piece, but my favorite came mid-way through this collection. Imagine, if you can, this very very Anglo looking guy converting himself into a 63-year-old black man who ran a hotdog concession at a ball park for years. When he started to go there despite our age of political correctness, I almost held my breath. Prager's capture of dialect and expression was uncanny, a lighthearted vocal tightrope ballet. With detail, humor, garrulous anecdote and, eventually, a story of heartbreak reluctantly revealed, Prager made that resililent, defeated hero live.

The Internet reveals that Ben Prager is off to Seattle next week for a four-day run at the New City Theatre in Seattle. He has played there before and he has the clippings to prove it. I wonder whether those denizens of the Emerald City will have the background fully to appreciate Prager's power in portraiture and mimicry.

review on austin.decider.com by Dan Solomon, January 27

Review by Ryan E. Johnson on Austin.com:
". . . he plays each one with humor, as well as tenderness, dancing on the edge of offensive or cliché, but never quite falling over the edge."

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