On the 'Fringe' with the Beacon
Update: 8:30 a.m. Sunday: Hanging with ‘Hamlet’ in the 21st century
Fans of the Bard know that Hamlet’s Ophelia is a tragic character, an obedient daughter, caught between her father and Hamlet. “Hamletamachine,” presented by Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble at St. Lou Fringe, has a trio of Ophelias heading down the proverbial primrose path.
Besides that, and the fact that all characters wear clown noses, and of course the pop-culture references including Coca-Cola and Barack Obama’s endorsement of same-sex marriage, it’s just like the Shakespearean version.
“Hamletmachine,” a 1977 postmodernist drama by a German playwright Heiner Mueller, loosely based on Shakespeare's classic, begins with a nod to Tennessee Williams.
“Stellaaa!” yells the clown, reminiscent of Marlon Brando’s Stanley Kowalski.
Stella comes running, along with Tina and a dusting, dancing, fretting woman, all three of whom are also Ophelia. Then, a man with a ukelele pops out of a giant casket, declaring himself to be (or not to be, later on) Hamlet.
Eventually, “Hamlet” denies his Hamlet-ness, proclaiming: “I am the camera phone; I am the data cloud.” That prompts other characters to chime in with, “ I’m the Android,” “I’m a PC,” and “I’m an iPad.”
To which the not-Hamlet replies: “My drama did not take place.”
Weird? You bet. Entertaining? Yep. Meaningful? Certainly, although it may take five or six viewings and a “CliffsNotes” to figure it out.
Identical soliloquies by the Ophelias make for an ominous finale: “When she walks through your bedroom with butchers’ knives, you will know the truth.”
That, of course, is followed by "Yakety Sax" — the theme from 1980s British comedy “The Benny Hill Show.”
You can catch"Hamletmachine" in its last Fringe showing at 5:30 p.m. today.
Update: 5:15 p.m. Saturday. Bad romance in The Bronx.
Any play that’s billed as “vulgar,” “in your face” and “hard to watch” has a lot to live up to -- or down to. “Danny and the Deep Blue Sea: An Apache Dance,” presented by Washington Avenue Players Project at St. Lou Fringe, does both. And not only in its near-record use of the “F” word.
In the script by John Patrick Shanely, writer of the movie "Moonstruck" and the play, "Doubt," Danny (Todd Schaefer) and Roberta (Kelly Schnider) meet in a New York City dive bar. At 29 and 31, they both live with their parents. They both hate their fathers. Neither one likes people, and they don’t appear to like themselves. But right away, you wonder if they just might like each other.
Angry, twitchy, beaten-up Danny's a straight shooter:“When I turn 30, I’m putting a gun in my mouth and blowing my f***ing head off,” he tells Roberta.
But swaggering single mom Roberta’s not phased. Danny scares her “about as much as Halloween.” She has her own fantasies about taking a knife to her father’s face after the sexual abuse for which she blames herself.
“Get off my case,” Danny yells when she gets too near. As their shouting and shoving brings them closer and then face to face, it’s no surprise when Roberta says, “We’re going to love each other."
REM’s “Everybody Hurts” plays during the scene change between the bar and Roberta’s bedroom.
In the night, they experiment with sweet talk. “You’re good looking. You have a nice nose,” Danny says. “You got friendly ears,” Roberta replies.
But the morning birds have Roberta singing another song. Has the evening changed anything -- or anyone?
Sometimes romance isn’t pretty. But then, sometimes, neither is life.
Update: 10:15 p.m. Friday. ‘Brave Women’ and couples in cars
Who are the "Brave Women” in aTrek Dance Collective’s comedic performance by that name at the St. Lou Fringe? Turns out they're just ordinary women, living their lives. Also turns out that comedic dance is an effective way to bring them to life as loveable, flawed figures.
As they saunter onto the Fubar stage, a six-pack of sullen, yawning, texting young women in short skirts, they, one by one, begin applying mascara, lipstick, toenail polish and earrings, scowling at their reflections.
One emerges to talk about body hair.
“When I was 11, I started growing a mustache; it was the same year I started my period,” she says. “It was a great year.”
Sarcasm gives way to dance moves during various scenes involving waiting rooms and kitchens, with music ranging from Brittany Spears to techno to Spanish guitar. More soliloquies break up the numbers including one about Spanx, the new corset, essentially a “sausage casing.”
The final number has the women exercising until they drop, only to obsess over tummy bulges,receding gums and drooping derrieres before one finally asks, “Anybody want Ted Drewes?” It kind of feels like being a fly on the wall at a girls’ weekend but a whole lot snappier and probably just as much fun.
On to Friday's night's second stop, at the Nash Motors venue: Everybody knows that fighting, making up, making out and putting on makeup are just a few of the activities that happen as often in cars as they do at home. In their Fringe presentation, R-S Theatrics brings to life a pair of car tales from Neil LaBute’s “Autobahn.”
“Merge,” the first in line, is about a woman who confesses (sort of) to her husband, about a possible sexual encounter during a business trip. Their banter is like that of so many long-term couples, as they argue, more than once, over such minutia as whether the idea of “all” can ever mean “two.” But what they’re really trying to do -- or at least he is -- is shave away the fiction to reveal the facts.
Remarks like, “Do we have milk?” that randomly pop up during heated discussions in which he keeps yelling, “I’m not yelling!” reinforce husband-and-wife conversational patterns expertly captured by LaBute and smartly nailed by R-S Theatrics’ actors.
Update: 12 p.m. Friday. ‘Laughter, Tears’ on stage and in the seats.
Three plays by Stephen Peirick totaling an hour’s length opened Thursday night at the Kranzberg Arts Center’s black box theater, and will be staged three more times during the Fringe.
“Laughter” begins with “The Right Stuff,” featuring three 30-something Omaha women re-living -- or trying to re-live -- the two-decades-old “best day of their lives”: 19 hours standing in line for New Kids on the Block tickets. Bridget, an eye-rolling foil for her excessively enthusiastic OMG-ing friends, just wants to head to the bar.
All in all, “Laughter” elicits the guffaws its title promises, but the pat ending could use some work. But hey, it’s the Fringe, right? The perfect opportunity for fine-tuning your script.
Next up: “The Goodbye Party,” otherwise known as a wake. Sequestered in a bedroom, two sisters figuratively claw and scratch at each other’s tender places as their “guests” enjoy drinks and light banter a wall away.
After their conversation devolves into a critique of the older sister’s party-giving skills (“Just so you know, Boggle is a really fun game!”, she protests), the younger, now a widow, is left alone to grieve, finally. Her heaving sobs resonate enough to summon up a few sympathetic tears in this reporter’s eyes.
Finally, a fertility clinic drama ripe with comedic timing and physical comedy: “The Third Time” presents a couple alone with their final chance to conceive -- and it’s all up to husband Rick to make it happen.
After wife Julie objects to the hospital-issued porn as a warm-up, she asks Rick to tell her what turns him on.
“I can’t tell you my fantasies! You’re my wife,” Rick insists.
With lanky limbs and a myriad of expressions on his rubber-like face, Rick (Jason Meyers) recoils from his wife’s tirade about his “sick fantasy,” tries to escape her grasp as she chases him around the examining table and ultimately acquiesces to role-playing Nurse Bunny and Dr. Studman.
The couple may or may not conceive a baby, but the play delivers.
The evening’s second selection, “My Alexandria,” stays true to the mission of local newcomer Tesseract Theatre to “emphasize diversity and significance of multiracial casting.”
"Alexandria" is a two-man show about African-American soldiers fighting the Germans -- and their white counterparts -- as a part of the French Brigade in World War I.
In a sometimes hard-to-follow but interesting-to-watch technique, Daniel Ludwig and Reese Walters switch back and forth between black and white characters that don’t always match their own skin.
It’s an effective choice in many ways. Walters, in particular, is quite skilled in his dizzying switch-offs. About halfway into the 40-minute production, you can actually see on his face which voice he’s about to use before he’s spoken a word.
It will be worthwhile to watch this new company; it will certainly be affordable. Its entire 2012-2013 season, performed at the Regional Arts Commission, offers free admission.
On tap for tonight: “Brave Women” by aTrek Dance Collective, scenes from Neil Labute’s “Autobahn” by R-S Theatrics and “Danny and the Deep Blue Sea: An Apache Dance” by The Washington Avenue Players Project.
Update: 10:15 Thursday night. Ready, set, Fringe.
Thursday night was a soft opening for the St. Lou Fringe, a five-day festival of performing arts in Grand Center and the Locust Business District.
Giving organizers a chance to warm up before the weekend, early Fringe-goers trickled into the evening’s shows at a slow, steady pace.
Thursday night Fringers found out their $5 admission buttons entitle them to discounts and freebies from nearby eateries, retail and service providers (including a free spinal exam at a back and neck center) as well as $7 off Circus Flora tickets during the festival.
Don’t throw the buttons away after Monday: West End Players, which is offering “Three Short Plays” by Stephen Peirick at the Kranzberg Arts Center during the Fringe, will give button-holders a two-for-one deal on tickets to any of their regular season main stage productions.
4:00 Thursday afternoon: How else to kick off the first-ever St. Lou Fringe but with a pair of time-traveling Victorian social anthropologists from Philadelphia?
“Cecily and Gwendolyn’s Fantastical Missourian Anthropological Inquisitorial Probe,” which debuted the Fringe on Thursday afternoon, June 21, was the first of about 30 acts performing in the Grand Center/Locust Business District festival of performing arts and street fair.
You can become one of Cecily and Gwendolyn’s test subjects as they explore the bizarre habits of 21st century citizens in four performances during the Thursday-through-Monday festival.
Throughout this event, the Beacon will pop in on a variety of venues and acts, with an emphasis on experimental and newer work by local performers and companies including: "Laughter, Tears, and The Right Stuff" by the West End Players Guild; "Excerpts from Conversations in Concert" by aTrek; and "My Alexandria" by The Tesseract Theatre Company.
Watch for tweets from @NFBeaconArts and check out our regular updates on the Beacon website beginning Thursday night and throughout the weekend.
St. Lou Fringe Performing Arts Festival
Where: Venues located in Grand Center and Locust Business District
When: Thursday-Monday, June 21-June 25
How much: $5 Fringe area button; shows $12 and under
Tickets: St. Lou Fringe website, Locust box office open 1-6 p.m. pre-festival; 1-10 p.m. Thursday-Friday; 10:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturday-Sunday
Information: Map, schedule at http://stloufringe.wordpress.com