Orlando Fringe Festival 2001

From The Orlando Weekly, May 2001

 

If the Fringe were a circus, one wonders what kind of acts there would be. A naked clown with water-filled plastic bags taped to her breasts? Perhaps, and if you put mechanical wind-up fish into the bags, you have this year’s Out of My Skin, by renowned Canadian clown Shannan Calcutt.

Few performers in this year’s festival command a crowd like “Shannan and the Monkeys.” For an hour, she keeps the crowd hanging on her every word and act. She shows personality and humor and is a clear favorite with Fringe-goers. However, her narcissistic theatre of the absurd is as pointless as the big round clown nose she wears.

At times she injects her skits with heart, commenting on her insecurities and laying bare her soul. There are also some genuinely funny moments such as when she picks volunteers to join her in a simulated synchronized swimming exercise. But there is not much to hold the skits together thematically as she rambles through her monologues. That could be forgiven because of the show’s absurd nature, but little Calcutt does is unique or meaningful. Despite her charm and boundless energy, she comes across as uninspired and self-absorbed.

“I’m tired of apologizing for being too much,” Calcutt says. She’s not really too much — she just acts as if she thinks she is.

 

The Ed Wood award for this year’s Fringe goes to the Grimy Brothers. Embarrassingly ill conceived and executed, their Lights Out Grimeville, Lights Out! pokes fun at everything from politics to Hollywood icons.

Richard Paul and Charles Frierman play the Grimys, brothers who host a bizarre children’s show but are somehow called upon to save the world. As if that’s not confusing enough, the two attempt to portray a dizzying array of other characters, including everyone from the coach of the Tampa Bay Bucs to Marilyn Monroe, in a story that would have even Robert Altman shouting “simplify!”

Added to the madness is a lengthy sequence done in total darkness with rambling voiceovers. The blackness at least prevents the audience from walking out. But even when the lights were on, I felt like both myself and the actors were groping around in the dark for the purpose of this production.

 

“You spend seven bucks…. on a show that sucks,” sings Fiely Matias of Asian Sings the Blues. He might be referring to some of the shows I saw this weekend, but certainly not to his own.

The Oops Guys Comedy Troupe’s new show is fresh on the heels of last year’s The Naked Guy, and they again have created one of the favorite events of the festival. Asian is billed as a lounge act spoof, but it goes far beyond that, into musical satire and improvisational comedy.

“I musically exploit my Asian heritage all in the name of financial gain,” Matias jokes. Add to the list of things being exploited sexual orientation, love, the city of Orlando and the Fringe itself, and you have a funny, intelligent hour of revelry, most of it due to the music written by Dennis Giacino and performed brilliantly by Matias.

Not every skit works, and like many other Fringe shows, the venue holds the actors back. But the troupe makes the best of it, even going so far as to stop the show briefly to hand out “train candy” to the audience when a passing locomotive is heard on the tracks adjacent to the green venue.

 

Art Sake Studio provides us with one of the year’s most complex and psychological shows. Shakers, by John Godber and Jane Thorton, depicts the life of four British barmaids. We see them rail against men and the abuse waitresses endure at their thankless jobs. But we also see the actresses depart from their waitress characters and lapse into a variety of other roles, such as the men they so bitterly bash and the drunk, immature women they are called upon to serve each night.

The four actresses work well together and slip from role to role without losing energy or pacing. But their bad accents, their inability to focus on some of the play’s deeper meanings and the script’s weaknesses hinder the production. Director Simon Needham goes for just the humor in many scenes instead of exploring the ironies behind the actresses playing both the waitresses and the customers they hate. The customers fade into the background without giving the audience a better understanding of the lives of the barmaids.

Lauren O’Quinn is the strongest and is best able to show her character’s fragility. She also gets the biggest laughs as a drunk and love-struck bar patron. Christy Moore also lights up the stage with a glowing performance that is at times both touching and humorous. Marisa Odom and Yvonne Suhor also give the play their full energy, creating a humorous and entertaining, if not particularly meaningful, show.

 

If you want to know why burlesque died, see Incense and Nonsense: A Night of Religious Burlesque. That’s not to say that the art was without merit or that this particular production is not entertaining. In fact, burlesque contributed greatly to the art of the 20th century. However, most of the skits the Act About Players include in their combination of a second-rate vaudeville show and a religious revival fall flat.

Rob Labby is the show’s heart, playing host and a variety of roles in several predictable skits. But it is the energy and freshness of Tim Dunn and Peter Halpern that create the few funny moments. Karen Monsalvatge also stands out, quite literally, in a push-up bra, as the blonde bimbo kept alive in recent years through Johnny Carson’s Art Fern sketches.

The production is more a history lesson about a past art than good entertainment. True to both burlesque and religious revivals, the cast at one point even ventures into the crowd to sell souvenirs such as tambourines and gag gifts. It seems like a joke until they really start taking money from the audience.

“You can find god in the strangest places,” Labby says. “Sometimes you may even find god in a shoddy Burlesque show.” Labby’s description of his work is correct, but the best thing I found in the orange venue that night was the exit door.  

 

In Mickeys’ Teeth, playwright Amlin Gray shows the difficulties an ex-Mouseketeer has in shedding his past. But the play goes deeper than that, satirically exposing the strange psychological effect Disney has on us. Directed intelligently by Stephen French, the Verge Diversions production is one of the shortest at this year’s Fringe, but it’s also one of the funniest and most poignant for Orlando’s Disney-brainwashed audience.

In a coffee shop in California in the 1970s, former rat packer Steve (Ward Ferguson) drinks away his worries and curses the fact that he can never close a business deal because of childhood celebrity. The waitress (Leneil Bottoms) does the best she can to console him. “Walt Disney ruined my life too,” she complains.

Steve is there to meet fellow Mouseketeer Leah whom he hasn’t seen in years and admittedly can’t quite remember, for good reason, as she is more of a stalking fan than a true club member. Apparently, she appeared in only a few episodes and has carried the memory of meeting Steve with her since. Leah reunites with Steve not to rekindle her own pixie dust but to get even for the heartbreak she suffered at the hands of both Steve and Mr. Disney. Once the mouse club passed her by those many years ago, her dreams of Neverland vanished as quickly as Peter Pan’s shadow. She was left in rural Nebraska to milk cows and deal with her farm’s rodent problem. “The mice overran everything,” she says.

Lori Babson, as Leah, brings out the humor and irony of the play. She captures the sickeningly sweet Disney demeanor perfectly, and her transformation from Snow White to wicked queen is appropriately creepy. And in true Disney fashion, the story is wrapped up neatly in fairy-tale fashion.

 

Two women’s journey from friends to lovers is explored in Black River Production’s Stop Kiss, one of the most sensitive and touching productions of the festival. The intelligent script by New York’s Diana Son, the fast-paced direction of Laurel Clark and the brilliant performance by Leesa Halstead combine to elicit both laughter and heartbreak.

Callie (Halstead) and Sara (Adonna Niosi) become friends but over time sense they want to become closer, despite the fact that Callie has never seen herself as homosexual. Halstead captures Callie’s sexual confusion perfectly, bringing the appropriate balance of humor and vulnerability to her role. Niosi’s character is not as complex emotionally, but she manages to bring to life the inner struggles Sara faces. Bill Warriner and Anthony James Holsten are also excellent as ex-boyfriends of the two women, as is Jon Freda as a New York detective.

Two specific times in the lives of Callie and Sarah are juxtaposed to great effect. Most of the action focuses on the developing love between the two, but there are repeated flash forwards to the aftermath of a violent attack Sarah endures on the streets of New York City one evening. The attack brings the two even closer together, and the way in which the two different times in the women’s lives are presented makes this play one of the must-sees of the Fringe.

Copyright 2001 © Orlando Weekly