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Highlights From the Fringe Festival blog at washingtoncitypaper.com/fringe
Hip Shot: “Dizzy Miss Lizzie’s Roadside Revue: The Oresteia”
The Baldacchino at Fort Fringe
Friday, July 25, @ 7 p.m.; Saturday, July 26, @ 2 p.m.
They Say: “If the ancient Greek playwright Aeschylus had gone on tour with Led Zeppelin, Woody Guthrie, and a carnie troup, this is what he would have written. A tale of blood, guts, and vengeance, Aeschylus’s Oresteia, recharged. Rowdy, raucous, loud and literate: Dizzy Miss Lizzie’s Roadside Revue presents the Oresteia.”
Trey’s Take: Pretty much as advertised: Mostly raucous, intermittently musical, almost always fun. (And I’m on record as believing that brand-new Oresteia adaptations aren’t strictly necessary, so from me, “fun” is saying something.)
I had my doubts, too: Could the Revue crew really get through all three of the House of Atreus plays in the advertised 70 minutes? Turns out I’d underestimated the summarizing power of, for instance, the tart shorthand with which a vengeful Elektra, plotting the death of her marricide mother Clytaemnestra, sums up her thoughts about the long-banished brother she hopes will return to deliver the vengeful blow: “I hope he’s not a pussy.”
Also efficient: The stained-glass bluegrass choral number in which Elektra and her fundamentalist libation bearers pray piously for “the death of that vile whore.”
For what’s essentially a fast-moving, one-wiseass-after-another lark, the adaptation spends perhaps too much time trying to get inside its characters’ heads—to explain Orestes’ biddable nature, for instance. But there’s juggling, a certain amount of hand-walking, and just when you think it couldn’t get much more vaudeville, in strolls an accordionist—in a tutu, unless I misremember.
Audience participation is encouraged, which last week inspired the peanut gallery to contribute the observation that Helen of Troy was an “unfaithful bitch,” and the inevitable postmodern irony raises its head when Clytaemnestra, strapped lusciously into a velvet-patchwork bustier, heaves a put-upon sigh: “All the men in my life turn out to be such disappointments.”
See It If: Mention of the vengeful Furies and the cultural norms they enforce always made you want to write a driving punk anthem revolving chiefly around the lyrics “Don’t be an asshole.”
Skip It If: You think the classics shouldn’t be performed unless they’ve been properly embalmed; the rousing Up With People homage in which the goddess Athena restores harmony and invents the civil justice system might just send you over the edge.
POSTED BY TREY GRAHAM ON THURSDAY, JULY 17, 2008, AT 6:41 P.M.
Hip-Shot: “Born Normal”
Saturday, July 26, @ 5 p.m.; Sunday, July 27, @ 6:30 p.m.
They Say: “Her mother has wings; her sister can raise the dead, and her brother is growing increasingly bizarre in his own way. How can Jane keep her family together when she’s not even sure she wants to be a part of it? Who knew being born normal could be so difficult?”
Glen’s Take: Born Normal had me worried there for a while. As playwright Stephen Spotswood trotted out his clan of quirk-riddled characters, many of whom possess the kind of gifts that’d earn them AP credits at the X-Men’s Xavier School (wings, ESP, a necromantic touch). I girded myself for that particular species of magical realism that’s more about the magic than the real—theater that concerns itself with nothing but its own overripe and overwrought mythology.
But even as Born Normal’s contrivances pile up, you’ll start to spot signs of promise: Eli Sibley’s patrician bearing, Slice Hicks’ low-key delivery, and—especially—some evocatively staged and downright lovely moments involving those wings. And then, about 20 minutes in, a tonal shift occurs, at which point you can feel the author deciding, OK, I’ve got enough toys to play with here. From that moment on, Born Normal turns in on itself, but not in the airless, overcooked way that reduces its magical elements to mere cartoons. Instead, Spotswood and director Ryan Whinnem devote themselves to fully imagining this world until it achieves a metaphorical and emotional heft.
That said, the show’s metaphorical elements are awfully on-the-nose, but Spotswood gets a bye because he allows the characters to notice it too. I’m less inclined to forgive the way the show underutilizes a naturalistic actor like Brandon McCoy while overutilizing Laura E. Quenzel’s prolix narrator. And even though Born Normal ends precisely when it needs to, it could stand another cold, appraising edit. I’m not sure the character of Sissy (Rachel Holt) is yet pulling her narrative weight, for one thing, and if a scene between the narrator and her grandmother (Holt again) served some end besides giving Holt a chance to make some funny faces, I confess I missed it.
See It If: Your bookshelf leans more Chris Adrian and Kevin Brockmeier than Clive Cussler and Nicholas Sparks.
Skip It If: In your estimation, the complex psychosocial terrain of the normal-child-in-wacky-family dynamic has already been mapped, and definitively so, by The Munsters.
POSTED BY GLEN WELDON ON FRIDAY, JULY 18, 2008, AT 1:56 P.M.
Overheard at Fringe: Dropping Eaves. Like They’re Hot.
A theater critic burns through memo pads at a fast clip. Mine get filled up with the stuff you’d imagine they would: bits of dialogue, a lighting cue, dashed-off descriptions of a set or a costume. For me at least, the notes are little more than mnemonic street lamps, each one lighting up a few minutes of the play I just watched. I don’t often write down anything I’d consider real criticism, unless, say, I’m just not buying what a given group of performers is selling and I can’t put my finger on just exactly why until I hit on a word like “tentative”—that stuff, I’ll write down.
But my notes also contain, ah, other stuff. Lookit: If the BF doesn’t wanna join me when I review something, I tend to go alone. And when I do, I do what everyone who sits alone in a theater has done since Seven Against Thebes was packing them in: I eavesdrop the hell out of you.
Here’s some of the pearls of—let’s be generous and call it wisdom—overheard during Fringe.
“No, we’ve never been to Fringe before. We’re from Annandale.” —matronly sort at Cat-Headed Baby, blithely asserting a cause-and-effect relationship where one doesn’t necessarily exist.
“I dunno. Do they grab you and make you come on stage? I hate that. It’s like, dude, I’m paying you to watch you.” —skeptical teen perusing fliers at Fort Fringe, expressing his conviction that “audience participation” is oxymoronic in nature.
“…Antonin Scalia’s favorite restaurant…” —I’ve overheard this phrase, or a variation thereof, every time I get within 20 feet of Fort Fringe. I imagine Fringe staffers hear it on the hour. Please stop.
“Did you get that thing where she was in the shower?” —furrow-browed young woman leaving Born Normal, confessing her slow-on-the-uptakeness in re: one of the show’s more abstract jokes. If you’re reading this: It took me a while to get that, too, but I think she’s talking about sperm. Or crabs, possibly. No, probably sperm.
“Are you seeing the arms on that guy? [Grunt.]” —slightly tipsy admirer of the male form, shamelessly objectifying one particular Dizzy Miss Lizzie castmember.
POSTED BY GLEN WELDON ON MONDAY, JULY 21, 2008, AT 1:04 P.M.
For altogether too much fringe coverage, visit the Fringe & Purge blog.