Friday, August 8, 2014

Getting in on the Show at EdFringe

We all know that the best-laid plans can go awry.  And sometimes that turns out to be a good thing.  When we were planning our Fringe schedule, Wendi specifically said that she wanted to avoid shows that advertised as having audience participation.  I was on board with that as I envisioned painful comedy acts where audience members end up being poked and prodded and humiliated.   And yet we found ourselves at multiple shows in which we ended up being bit players in the performance.

Silent Voice 
Silent Voice -- This show was described as a portrayal of four men who get together for an "intelligent yet dangerous heist."  Being a thriller lover, it sounded right up my alley (plus it was part of the "South African season" that Guardian arts critic Lyn Gardner had lauded).  From the opening moments, though, we knew we had made a mistake as the actors shouted and ran around the stage.  About ten minutes into the performance, the actors came into the audience with guns raised, telling us to keep our heads down and not to look at them.  One actor positioned himself next to Wendi and actually pushed her head down.  Gulp!  As soon as the gun-wielding performers had made their way back to the stage, Wendi and I made our way to the door.   My score:  0 stars (we left)

Theatre on Long Thin Wire
Theatre on a Long Thin Wire -- This play was billed as a show that takes risk-taking to a new level, with no actors, no technicians and no set.  I was highly intrigued.   When on queue to get in, we were told to read the instructions as we entered the room and to leave all of our belongings at the door.  We learned that the phone might ring, and that someone could answer it if we wanted to.  Along with 14 other audience members, Wendi and I filed into a small room whose only decor was a chair with a phone on it.  Most people milled around as I sat on the floor.  The phone rang.  I encouraged Wendi to pick it up.  She did -- and cut off the caller.  He called back and another audience member answered.  Over the course of the next hour, the guy on the other end of the phone talked to various audience members (including Wendi and me), and we repeated his words to the rest of the group.  (Yes, a speaker phone would have been more efficient, but it would have defeated the objectives of team building and who knows what else.)  Thank goodness that we participated because the show was dreadfully dull.  The caller was an agoraphobic and we were his only connection to the outside world.  I won't reveal the story in case someone reads this who plans to see the show, but suffice it to say that I felt it was a failed theatrical experiment.   My score:  2 stars (I didn't like it but recognize it had some redeeming qualities)

Kraken -- When we were on queue for a performance one night, we noticed a long line--and much excitement--for a show called Kraken.  This "beautifully strange stream of consciousness idiocy" from a Gaulier-trained clown sounded like fun so we added it to our schedule.  While waiting to get into the theater, Wendi pointed out a notice that the show included some nudity.  Huh?  As we were in our front row seats waiting for the performance to start, Wendi noticed a nose sticking out from behind the curtain; later there was a forehead.  We were giggling already.  "Kraken" (aka Trygve Wakenshaw) made a real entrance as he came onto the stage struggling against giant rubber bands that held him back from reaching his goal of a stool at the other end of the stage on which his clothes for the performance were stacked.  The only way to get out of the bands was to strip out of his clothing.  (I know this is hard to imagine, but it was really funny and well-done.)  He stands naked on the stage with a wry look on his face.  I felt like he was looking right at me and tried my best to maintain eye contact.  He is long and lean and quite adorable.  Once he was dressed, the show continued, and it was a combination of mime (the kind where some language is involved) and physical humor that kept us laughing for an hour.  He had a bit with a bow and arrow where he struck people in the audience, proclaimed "ow" and came over and kissed them on their foreheads.  I was delighted to be the recipient of a wound and a kiss.  (It was quite a remarkable night for me--a naked man AND a kiss!)  Later in the show he was doing a sleight of hand with some objects that disappeared.  "Has anyone seen my balls?" he asked innocently.  I chimed in that they were hard to see because they were very little, doing a bit of miming of my own.  "Perhaps it's cold?" I ventured.  He laughed, we all laughed, and we didn't stop until the performance was over.  My score:  3 1/2 stars (really enjoyed it and would recommend it).

Jonny Donahoe
in Every Brilliant Thing
Every Brilliant Thing -- When we entered this theater in the round, actor Jonny Dohahoe was approaching audience members and handing out pieces of paper with numbers and words on them.  A few were handed pages with slightly longer scripts and actually played characters.  Donahoe was cheery and endearing and I immediately was filled with happy anticipation (despite knowing that the show deals with depression).  As the show begins, a seven year old is told by his dad that his mum has "done something stupid" and that she's in the hospital.  She apparently doesn't feel like life is worth living.  The boy decides to make a list of all of the brilliant things in the world.  Donahoe would call out a number and the audience member would shout out his or her line -- ice cream or kind old people who aren't weird and don't smell unusual or realizing where an idiom comes from (like when you wake up in the morning and actually smell the coffee brewing).  Wendi's and my brilliant things were electricity and skinny dipping.

The list takes on a life of its own over time in a story that is sweet and sad and filled with laughter and love and optimism in the face of real-life issues.  Donahoe is wonderful in the role and is as believable in his seven year old persona as he is as an adult.  I loved every second of this show.  In the last scene, he unloads a large box filled with pages of brilliant things.  These ideas have been contributed by audience members, and we were invited to take a look as the show drew to a close.  I had already written my own addition -- the show "Every Brilliant Thing."  This show alone would have made going to the Festival worthwhile.  My score:  5 stars (wonderful, unusual, loved it).

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