By Joseph Geha
By Jonathan Kiefer
By Katie Tandy
By Mollie McWilliams
By Jennifer Baires
By Jonathan Curiel
By Sherilyn Connelly
According to gossip, the four members of a troupe called Banana, Bag, and Bodice moved away from San Francisco last year because of rising rents. They fled to New York. They're currently back in town to put on a show at the Fringe Festival, but for them the cost of living seems to be slightly lower back east.
Rising rent, and limited space -- as no one in the San Francisco theater scene needs to be told -- is a problem for almost everyone hoping to put on a play, so this year, the Fringe Festival ought be more important than ever. For a low fee the local producer, the Exit's Christina Augello, offers promotion and space to 50 or 60 individual shows. You'd think small theater troupes would leap at this chance to experiment with new material in front of an automatic audience (opening-night ticket sales were up 11 percent this year), but the tone is still more Fringey than really experimental. "Fringey" implies lots of magic, comedy, and overall weirdness that seems unique to the festival, as opposed to envelope-pushing theater. Nothing wrong with Fringiness. Everyone expects it. Some acts do nothing but tour the world's Fringe festivals. But I did expect the local real estate market to change the festival's tone a little more than it has.
Take the Banana, Bag, and Bodice show, inexplicably named Number 2, which seems to be a pale rip-off of a Beckett play (say, Endgame or Godot). It features a serving boy on stilts, a cantankerous boss on a ladder (who mumbles nonsense and eats porridge from a bucket), and two clowns stomping around the stage in a mess of coat hangers, cotton balls, and pornographic playing cards. You can't ask for a better definition of Fringiness. It's lively and fun, now and then, but I assume B, B, & B came back to San Francisco because the troupe had nothing else to do in New York. If you can do absolutely anything at the Fringe, why not a serious one-act? Why not a dry-run of that play you've been writing? Who enforces Fringiness, exactly? And how does an anarchistic free-for-all get to feel so weirdly conformist?
Just wondering. -- Michael Scott Moore
10 Kevin Augustine's stunning, mysterious play has the strange beauty of a David Lynch movie and its own skewed, desperate vision. Augustine wrote, directed, built the puppets, and performs this enigmatic version of the Frankenstein story, assisted onstage by two gifted puppeteers, Jane Catherine Shaw and Carol Binion. Andrew (Augustine) awaits his fiancee on his wedding day; she fails to appear. Andy subsumes his pain in a plan to create a man who can dance to Tchaikovsky. He enters a strange contest for "Creators," others who are attempting the same thing as him, some who've achieved acclaim for their results and who arouse his envy. Andy's creature, the puppet Daniel, begins to take form -- his haggard, misshapen face, his scarred, patchwork body -- but his legs cause Daniel too much pain to dance as his progenitor has planned, and Andy despairs. As he lies on the floor in pain, certain he's failed, Daniel begins to dance, and the moment is overwhelming. 10 is a great and terrible fable about art and love. (J.M.)
Angry Jellow Bubbles -- The RevengeIn Eva Minemar's free-form show from New York, six women -- all of them young and alluring -- talk for an hour about their bodies. It's not exactly improv, because the performers mount the stage with a good idea of what they're about to say; but it's also not anything else. Some routines are angry, like Olivia Singer's witty laceration of the Botox trend. Other routines are interesting, like Sigalit Ben Yehuda's discussion of her Orthodox Jewish family's attitude toward body exposure; or funny, like Tracy Tobin's impersonation of her own skin complaining about the sun. But other segments are sophomoric, like the parodies of pop songs the women sing in the first segment. Minemar seems to build the show around her performers' personal beauty-insecurities, and as long as the women are funny and frank, it's reminiscent of the better Vagina Monologues. (M.S.M.)
Breton's Dream Sean Owens' smart and funny treatment of the surrealists gets a rather messy production from director Lisa Giglio and the Center for Imaginary Solutions. The show, with an eight-member troupe and an unwieldy set piece, is too large for the Exit Stage Left playing area. But the main problem is the uneven cast. Michael Stubblefield in the title role has no shape or energy: His Andre Breton remains blurry and indistinct. Thank God for Christopher Kuckenbaker's hilarious turns as Max Ernst ("The Nazis are Man Ray's iron," he proclaims, referring to the famed dadaist flatiron with protruding nails in its underside) and Salvador Dali. Kathryn Wood's costumes put the actors in underwear and garters, with witty accessories delineating the various roles. Owens and his cohorts are on to something here: With more crispness and polish, Breton's Dream could be great theater. (J.M.)
My Penis -- In and Out of TroubleAntonio Sacre returns to the Fringe after last year's Black and Brown and White All Over with a piece that will polarize audiences. A strangely subdued Sacre sits in an armchair with hundreds of snapshots spread out on the floor around him. He picks up one picture and begins a gentle, humorous recitation of his sexual history. Sacre is funny, playful, and charming, even when dealing with the seamier side of sex, such as his first trip to the doctor to be treated for VD, or the time he slept with a stripper at her boyfriend's house. And then his story turns horrific -- appallingly, staggeringly so. The shock is brutal, abrupt -- which is exactly Sacre's intention. He isn't merely performing here, he's lecturing, confessing, haranguing, exposing, even assaulting. He tears the audience wide open, shattering the distance between it and himself. Is this show Art? No. But it's brutally effective. (J.M.)
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