Monday, September 10, 2007

"Best of the Fringe: Part I," published in the NEWS of Delaware County, Sept. 5, 2007

The 11th annual Philadelphia Fringe Festival kicked into high gear over the Labor Day weekend. Bringing the spectacular, the wild, and occasionally the truly bizarre productions, the 2007 lineup features all the elements of the live arts in both seasoned productions, those on the verge of major success, and young companies just starting out and testing the waters with new works.

This year’s festival offers over 170 productions, with artists from all over the country, and removes as far away as Vietnam, the Congo, and Europe renting every performance venue in Philadelphia available (some even appearing in the street, or in one case, in the backseat of a car). Scattered among this nationwide and international artistic representation, several Delaware County based artists and arts-ensembles will ply their trade during this year’s Fringe.

My Fringe weekend kicked off seeing Upper Darby based actress Meghan Heimbecker appear as part of a stellar cast in 11th Hour Theatre Company’s production of “Six of One.” This chamber musical by Paul Loesel (music) and Scott Burkell (lyrics) deals with the friendships and relationship struggles of six people on the verge of turning 30, still trying to figure out how to handle the interpersonal disasters that plague their lives. Strong performances from the cast, combined with the clever and often funny lyrics make this exploration of trial marriages and pre-mid-life crisis memorable.

Two Lansdowne Improv groups gave back-to-back performances, which will continue next weekend. Tapestry Theatre presented the two-woman show “Cecily and Gwendolyn’s Fantastical Balloon Ride,” an improvised adventure about two English women (Karen Getz and Kelly Jennings) travelling through time and space to seek out the lost heir to the British throne. Taking cues of places and objects from the audience, while forcing them to participate, Tapestry’s production provides great fun, and is highly recommended for kids and families.

Lunch Lady Doris practiced the art of “long form improvisation" in their impressive (and regularly sold out) show Sunday evening. In their performance, five comedians take a simple suggestion from the audience (song title, childhood memory), which they quickly turn into a series of sketches ranging from the absolutely hysterical to the surprisingly sophisticated and poignant. Their hyperactive wits and effortlessly sharp timing definitely impress in one of the most entertaining improv acts I’ve seen anywhere.

The local improv theme will continue next weekend in “LEAP! The Actor’s Improv Experiment,” where Havertown’s Ben Lloyd joins a cast of some of Philly’s best actors in a ten-day improvisational comedy boot camp. Local improv coach Bobbi Block (part of Lunch Lady Doris) will force Lloyd and four other actors to drop their script addiction, and learn how to create a compelling text seamlessly and out of thin air. Look for this to become one of the most interesting (and best-attended) Fringe productions. Lloyd and the others can certainly act, having several Barrymore Awards amongst them, and I can’t wait to see what they will do without any lines to read.

However, the best show (by far) I’ve seen in the first few days of the Fringe hailed from a little outside Delaware County, in the Philadelphia based Brat Productions show, “Fatboy” by New York City’s Fringe co-founder John Clancy. In Fatboy, South Park collides with Michael Moore in a piercing satire of modern America’s imperialist ambitions, the average consumer’s infinite desires that drain the globe of resources, and the U.N.’s inability (if not complicity) in doing anything but offering to get someone a round of drinks. Suitable for voters of any stripe, politics fall by the wayside here, as the over-the-top crazed performances and blitzkrieg humor of the script catapult the audience through Fatboy’s wacky quest for world domination, driven onward by his insatiable appetite for pancakes and bacon. An absolute must see.

No comments: