Recap of the Fringe Festival

01Aug06

DC’s inaugural Fringe Festival closed Sunday.

It was a good ten days. I was lucky enough to see seven shows, participate in some workshops, and catch some of the street performances. I have some capsule commentary on the shows I saw below.

A professor of mine once said that good and great art is more inspiring than genius work. In the former, the rough edges stick out and you can discern a work’s flaws and its successes; genius work is more difficult to penetrate.

Many times during the Festival, I felt like my mind was on overdrive. I could barely stay in my seat as snippets of dialogue would materialize in my head and I would want to flee whatever theater I was in and find a computer and write down these fleeting creative hints before they disappeared. (I need to buy one of those tiny spiral notebooks that fit in your pocket. I don’t have an excuse for not having one.) Thankfully I just registered with a service that emails me audio notes from voicemails I leave at a special phone number. After curtain calls I sped outside and dialed the number, speaking quickly so that I record all the brain children before they miscarried.

Listening to the audio notes now, I find it funny that I begin each by saying “Hey Joe” and close them by saying “Take care.” I don’t think I want to lose that habit.

Here are my thoughts on a few Fringe plays:

Desire Caught by the Tail
My friend Carmen directed this play and I helped out with some audio recording and a poetry project. The woman did amazing work. Reviews were overwhelmingly positive and every night sold out.

That said, I still don’t care for the script by Pablo Picasso. There’s a reason this play is rarely executed. There’s no narrative direction, no plot, no tension, no real conflict. And I don’t think the absurd imagery and circumlocutions that fill the play are particularly artful. I think it’s a mediocre avant-garde piece. Carmen’s success hinged on softening the script with puppetry, video effects, and some amazing choreography from BosmaDance. Good work C.

Lunch, the Musical
I know the producers of this show as well. I made their website. All of my friends that saw this show loved it, and I did too, but the performance space took something away from the production. I kept on thinking during the show how much better it would be if the space had better lighting. Still it’s the Fringe, and space is scarce.

On a side note: the playwright, Shawn Northrip, played guitar with the band during the performance. I like watching a writer’s face when their work is being produced, you can tell which jokes they’re most proud of by their expectant gaze beforehand the joke and their relieved laughter afterwards.

May 39th
This play about dating in DC in the year 3006 reminded me of something I would write. My only complaint about the show was that playwright Callie Kimball chooses to end the play on an ironic twist instead of finding resolution to the complex emotional matrix she started to unpeel. Or maybe that’s just how I would end it–and I need to get over that.

Kudos to Kimball for creating a complicated fictional world that her characters reveal to the audience with subtlety, not awkward exposition like in sci-fi novels.

HELP WANTED: A Personal Search for Meaningful Employment at the Start of the 21st Century
“I liked it. I like it. It breaks my heart wide open.” The final words of Josh Lefkowitz’s performance sum up how I felt about this show. It was my favorite piece in the Fringe festival. Josh has a bright future ahead of him. He’s going to be performing this work elsewhere soon and if you’ve ever tinkered with the equation “life + art = low investment return,” you need to see it.

The Arabian Night
Every review of this play mentioned how god damn hot it was inside the space. So I won’t do that here. The Arabian Night is kind of like Being John Malkovich mixed with… um, Arabian Nights. It worked.

Short Works Exploring Dangerous Devotion
Uggh. This was the only show I saw during the Fringe that I didn’t like. Three short plays. None held my attention. I think I’m old-fashioned and getting cranky in my old age. The first play was an Ionesco piece that borrows his authoritarian themes from Rhinoceros but is missing that play’s sense of fun. The second play by Fornes at least had a plot and conflict, but I never gave a damn about the characters. The final piece, a Durang short about Southerners who film the execution of a homosexual and adulterer for a local access cable channel, was kind of entertaining. It also had all the sophistication of a presidential campaign commercial.

Like You’re My Friend… and All
I really liked the two plays featured in this show. The second was hilarious: a man tries to figures out how he can give his ex-girlfriend a vibrator in the shape of his penis as a going away present. It shows how easy and fun theatre can be. We need more short, accessible plays like these and spaces to put them every weekend.

Alright, I’m gonna go buy that notebook. And maybe a pair of suspenders.

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One Response to “Recap of the Fringe Festival”

  1. 1 sas

    Hi Joseph. I have to admit, I don’t understand what most of your posts are about, but that’s okay. I’d love to hear thoughts – if you have more – about what did and didn’t work for you about Lunch – we’re (and by “we” I mean Shawn) making pretty substantial cuts for NY, and it’s a bit tricky. P.S. Your unintentional outing during your spelling bee stint made me laugh out loud.


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