Fringiness

Notes toward a different kind of Fringe

Run JennyAn Oakland theater troupe called Bay Stage works against the mood of the Fringe by offering a realistic drama set in the antebellum South. Run Jenny is about a Northern woman named Henrietta Hunt who moves to a Southern town called Willow Springs. She upsets things there by encouraging the local slaves to escape, and later stands trial for killing her husband. The story has passion, suspense, and a powerful twist, but playwright Michael Thomas Tower casts it in the most awkward form possible for a play. Instead of watching what happens, we hear about it secondhand. John Buchanan is earnest and well-paced as the gently defiant apothecary; Tower himself plays the grave Southern judge with authority. But other acting is uneven (although Mahasin Islam delivers an excellent final speech as Jenny), and the show as a whole seems to walk stiffly when it wants to run. (M.S.M.)

StewThe sleeper hit of the 2000 Fringe might be Cameron Galloway's Stew, featuring the hapless, neurotic, fragile, sentimental, romantic-liberal idealist Eustencia Charity, who does a cooking show. She wants to emphasize that all food -- notably the chicken in her pan -- was once alive, and should be thanked in some way before the meal. Eustencia's weird behavior causes friction with her director, a disembodied male voice she happens to have married. The friction drives her to the comforts of various personalities, including her therapist, her shotgun-wielding sister, Noam Chomsky, and an adoring mango. Chomsky (Terry Lamb) makes a hilarious appearance on the TV show in an apron, theorizing about paella; later Eustencia dances with a giant cob of corn. Her capacity for building major crises from trifles, and acting put-upon in a squeaky voice, is what makes Eustencia so much fun to watch. Strong performances by Lamb, Cynthia Bassham, and Megan Blue Stermer offset weaker performances by Michael Carreiro and Adrian Elfenbaum; the show generally feels pointless when Eustencia isn't onstage. (M.S.M.)

Theatre/Plague Artaud wrote, "The theater, like the plague, is a crisis which is resolved by death or cure." Also: "We cannot go on prostituting the idea of theater whose only value is its excruciating relationship to reality, and magic, and danger." The Frenchman was pretentious enough on his own, but Atomic Elroy, in Theatre/ Plague, only makes him worse. Elroy sits onstage in a straitjacket and a cardboard dunce cap, with an incongruous headset to amplify his voice, and alternately mouths long quotations from Artaud or does weird shit while Artaud-quotations flow muddily over a speaker system. And on opening night, when Elroy lit incense in the close hot room, then poked the burning stick through the top of his dunce cap, and had to pluck it out to keep his hair from burning -- this was the opium-smoking scene -- it became time for me to leave. (M.S.M.)

Perfectly Constructed: Trailer Trash Tabloid
Perfectly Constructed: Trailer Trash Tabloid

Details

Through Sept. 17. For info on specific performances, call 673-3847 or visit www.sffringe.org.
Exit Theater and Exit Stage Left, the Phoenix II, the Lorraine Hansberry Theater, and Il Teatro 450

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Trailer Trash TabloidThis uproarious Florida import features the survivors and descendants of victims of a 1964 tornado telling their stories on the Lamont Lazarus tabloid TV show. See, when the twister flattened the "New Drawl City Mobile Home Village & Putt-Putt Golf" in South Georgia, killing most of the inhabitants, the Village's owner, Velveeta magnate "Happy Frank" Forkenberg, also wound up dead, but from a shotgun blast to the head. Actors Michael Wanzie and Doug Ba'aser play a variety of roles in outrageous costumes (by Skip Stewart). As Delilah Forkenberg -- Happy Frank's widow, who survived the disaster by hiding in a barbecue smoker -- Wanzie sports a phallic red beehive do and a collar of black and red feathers. As Rhoda Schuster, the trailer park love child, Wanzie has Shirley Temple curls, polka dots, and a lisp. As Doug Snood, inbred and missing teeth, Ba'aser delivers the goods on the park's suspected "lesbanese" inhabitant, Ethel-Mae Hyde-Park (Ba'aser again), who resents the implication that she looks like Janet Reno. Director/writer Lewis Routh's script is perfectly constructed; every detail pays off in unexpected ways. As one character says, "Her blond hair flowed down her shoulder like chicken gravy over mashed potatoes, and I thought, "Damn, I'm hungry.'" (J.M.)

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