Shiner is a Daffy Duck of a man. A squawker when anyone's in his way (and they always are), he somehow gets everyone to be as happily docile as he is grouchily aggressive. He knows what counts, so he never stops making fun of the audience members he hauls into his acts for clowning badly. Meanwhile, he gets amazing performances out of them. Sometimes the bits are short: A husband and wife pose for a picture, with Shiner soon replacing the husband with a man he thinks more qualified. Sometimes the sketches are elaborate: Playing a director, Shiner orchestrates a silent film filled with violence, passion, and four eager, frightened recruits. Whatever the scenario, Shiner plays both with and against the audience, insulting and flattering us in turn.
Fool Moon reminds you what a clown is good for, and most especially for whom: not just those of us who can't help slipping on peanuts, but also anyone who's ever wanted to be loved for her foolishness.
Now That's What I Call "Fringe"
"Seventh Annual Fringe Festival, A Marathon of Theater." By various performers, at five different downtown venues. Headquartered at the Exit Theater, 156 Eddy (between Taylor and Mason), through Sept. 20. Call 673-3847, or check www.sffringe.org.
It's a measure of how far California's anti-smoking hysteria has gone that an oaf in the audience of a Fringe Fest production can feel free to ask Dorothy Parker (of all the characters you can imagine smoking onstage) not to light up. "Please don't light that cigarette," the man said, as Parker settled in to tell a story. Mary Bennett, playing Parker, didn't miss a beat. "Here you are then darling," she said, leaning over to hand him the smoldering cigarette, so he could smash it out. A few moments later she teased him with a rhyme about lighting a fresh one -- "Just kidding."
Not all of Dorothy Parker ... Shivering and Sighing is that good, because its straight story-reciting doesn't work onstage; but when Bennett talks to the audience, or recites a Parker poem, or does 1/2 of a dialogue in a speak-easy with an invisible man (as in "Just a Little One"), she admirably inhabits the swing-era literary moll, with all her decadent weariness and jealous wit.
Still, cigarette controversy aside, Bennett's hardly as fringe as this fest gets.
Up From the Ground is a one-man collection of irreal characters, including a monkey astronaut, a sleeping pig, a dead Elvis waiting on the Highway of Eternity in a limousine, and Jesus, paired with a hallucinatory, evil monkey named Jungle Belle. The title piece is about a vivid Southern family entranced and terrified by some holy flowerlike thing growing in their cornfield. It's hilarious and elegant and really, really weird. Dan Carbone has rare gifts as an actor and writer; even his oddest noises, chants, and stories seem logical, which is exactly the sort of weirdness you hope to see at a Fringe Festival.
Simple oddness isn't enough, though. Killing My Lobster Gets Some Action was touted as weird and funny in the Sunday Chronicle but turns out to be weird and tepid, in spite of good acting by Mara Gerstein.
Bret Parker's Underneath the Power Lines involves jerky, dancelike movement in front of urban-landscape film footage, while vaguely political babble plays on a soundtrack; the effect is not so much rebellious or stark as narcissistic. Paired with Power Lines is E. Azzura's Simone Alone, also a movement piece but more whimsical; it takes its story and title character from George Bataille's novel, The Story of the Eye, about strange adolescent sex. The story helps unify the piece and we do get to see Azzura naked, but because Bataille's novel itself is narcissistic, Simone Alone can't escape the same description.
Butt Pirates of the Caribbean lives up to its hype as the most outrageous show of the festival, full of gaudy bad taste and high-energy slapstick about gay sailors and a pirate captain who "looks like Gunsmoke's Miss Kitty." The actors are not just strange or rude but effectively strange and rude -- meaning talented -- so that even I was appalled. And I would recommend the Butt Pirates' framed human derrieres expelling a yellowish cloud up to the theater's rafters to the man who complained about Dorothy Parker's cigarette. Nobody smokes in this show (although smoking is quite legal on a California stage), so he should be perfectly comfortable.