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Spooky Universe – Unitarian Memorial Church
1810 16th Street NW

Remaining Performances:

Saturday, July 9, 4 p.m.
Sunday, July 10, 12:30 p.m.
Sunday, July 17, 4:15 p.m.
Wednesday, Jul 20, 7:30 p.m.

They say: Spirit Tales is a comedy about men striving to be serious, make the world a kinder place. They get nowhere until certain mysterious women help them. Now they may be serious and successful, but the comedy remains.

Ryan’s Take: Technically Spirit Tales is three comedies. All three playlets share a basic plot structure and cast. Stuart Fischer and Linda Gabriel Deutsch play three pairs of star-crossed lovers separated by forces political, financial, cultural, and occasionally supernatural. But no worries, in the world of Leon Levenson’s triptych, it’s the nice guys that finish first, make the big bucks and ride off into the sunset with a beautiful woman. Spirit Tales wears its romantic, new-agey heart on its sleeve.

That’s why I feel like I’m kicking a puppy when I say this is one triptych to avoid. Levenson seems to suffer from a terminal fear of offending his audience, leading to a night of low stakes, a serious dearth of laughs and some very odd politics. For instance, the first playlet concerns Fischer’s character visiting a “dating service” that has promised to match him to the woman of his dreams. That’s all fine, but the women in question seemingly live at the establishment and those “dates” are booked six months in advance at the discretion of owner “Auntie” Josephine (a game Melissa Robinson, a highlight in multiple roles).

It’s not a dating service; it’s a brothel. But of course Deutsch’s walking lust object has a heart of purest gold and falls in love with Fischer’s sensitive hero basically on sight, which in Levenson’s world makes it all okay.

The cast has been ill-served by Emily Ann Jablonski’s flat direction. The actors are clearly under-rehearsed. Dropped lines, missed cues and confused crosses were frequent. Quite frankly, I felt bad for the actors. The audience is given very little sign when one play ends and another begins. An audience needs something during transitions, be it a title card, a sound cue or a change in light to establish that we have entered not just a new place or scene, but an entirely new play with new characters. This is doubly important when the casts are shared. With Spirit Tales Calliope Arts & Theatre has presented a well-intentioned show with too many basic problems of artistry and craft. It’s a shame, but I can’t bring myself to let the word “Fringe” be an excuse.

See it if: You root for the underdogs, want to see new work in its nascent form, and you demand your Fringe venue be air conditioned.

Skip it if: You’re of the mind that Fringe audiences deserve at least a modicum of polish.