Monday, August 22, 2016

True Stories from EdFringe

EdFringe offers every possible type of theater you can imagine (and some types you can't). This year Wendi and I were struck by the number of reality-inspired shows we saw. They ran the gamut in terms of style. But most hit their mark, both entertaining and educating the audience.  Read on for three of my favorites.

Margaret Lovatt with Peter
"Tank" by UK theater company Breach told the story of work done in the 1960s to teach dolphins how to speak English. The research was funded in part by NASA. (NASA's goal was to teach a non-human to speak English as practice for communication with the aliens we would bring home from space. The agency wanted to make sure the United States was ahead of Russia in this endeavor.) 

The show was incredibly well-done and incorporated tapes from the actual study. Not surprisingly, there was lots of humor and some fine dolphin imitations. And the portrayal of Margaret Lovatt as the sex object of Peter the dolphin--after she moved in with him--was handled tastefully. (I am not kidding. This aspect of the project hit all the news media, with "Hustler" writing a story titled "Interspecies Sex: Humans and Dolphins." Some stories report this as the most significant finding of the study.)

To read more about this crazy experiment, click here.  And to hear Margaret talk about her experiences in a BBC interview, click here.

Gayle Newland
"Scorch" by Belfast's Prime Cut Production revolved around an issue much in the news today -- gender dysphoria. "Kes" is a teenage girl who identifies as a boy. Searching for forums where he can be his true self, Kes enters the world of online dating. He meets Jules, and they begin an online relationship that ventures into the real world. Kes dresses carefully for these meetings, wearing loose clothing, a baseball cap and a binder to strap down his breasts (which, he says, burst forth one day like the creatures in "Alien"). Over time, their relationship becomes sexual (with the logistics of this left to the audience's imagination).

While Kes is sure that Jules knows he is biologically a female, they never talk about it. They're kids, after all, and how could Jules not know?

The truth eventually comes out, and Jules and her family seek prosecution against Kes for rape by deception/gender fraud. Kes ends up going to prison, confused about what he's done wrong and devastated that he's harmed the love of his life.

I was shocked to learn that there have been five cases in the UK in which a transgender person has been convicted of gender fraud in similar situations. In one case, Gayle Newland, a woman who identifies as a man, was sentenced to eight years in prison for rape by deception after posing as a woman's boyfriend for two years. Click here to read more about this and similar cases.

Actor Cal MacAninch in "My Eyes Went Dark"
"My Eyes Went Dark" at the Traverse Theatre featured Cal MacAninch who Wendi had recently seen on Broadway in "The Judas Kiss." But she hadn't been this up close and personal with the actor, who literally lay on the floor at our feet during a portion of the show. This immediacy lent even greater intensity to a tragic story. 

"My Eyes Went Dark" found its inspiration in the aftermath of a 2002 mid-air plane collision over Uberlingen,Germany that killed 71 people, 45 of whom were Russian schoolchildren. Three of those killed were the wife, 10 year old son and four year old daughter of Russian architect Vitali Kaloyev.

In the ensuing investigation, it was determined that--contrary to official policy but with management's knowledge--a single air traffic controller worked two stations on an overnight shift while a second controller rested in another room. His management of multiple flight patterns was a major factor in the crash, along with ongoing maintenance unknown to him that affected the radar management processing system.

Eight managers of SkyGuide, the air traffic control company, were tried in criminal court in connection with the collision.  Four were found guilty, three of whom were given a suspended sentence and one of whom paid a fine. Four others were found not guilty. It is unclear whether Peter Nielsen, the air traffic controller on duty, was a defendant in the case; if he was, he was found not guilty.

Wracked with grief and unsatisfied by the outcome of the trial, Kaloyev decided to take matters into his own hands. He tracked Nielson down at his home near Zurich and stabbed him to death. Kaloyev went to jail for his crime but received a hero's welcome at home upon his release.  Click here to read more about this case.

Cal MacAninch (who played Kaloyev) and Thusitha Jayasundera (who played numerous roles, including Kaloyev's wife, therapist and niece) truly inhabited their personas. You could have heard a pin drop in the theater as the audience watched the story unfold.

It's productions like these that made our EdFringe experience so memorable.  If you're a theater lover, you owe it to yourself to experience the Festival first-hand. Next year is the Festival's 70th year and promises to be crazier than ever. What are you waiting for??? 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Hearing from Playwright Jireh Breon Holder

I'm sure it comes as no surprise to hear I'm in serious theater withdrawal these days. Sure, there's plenty of theater online,...