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The Cloud Factory Warehouse Next Door

Remaining Performances: Thursday, July 17 @ 10:30 PM Friday, July 18 @ 6:30 PM Saturday, July 19 @ 4:30 PM Friday, July 25 @ 8:30 PM

They say: “Welcome to Sommerville, home of North America’s last independent cloud factory. The forecast is always partly cloudy, and Mary is sick of looking for the silver lining. But what will she do when the factory is shut down and her little town is changed forever?”

Brett’s take: I’ve read several reviews so far that talk about the relative “Fringe-iness” of the show being reviewed. General consensus seems to be that the out-there, the edgy, and the daring are the definition of Fringe (vis-a-vis The Naked Party), but based on my experience, far more common (and at times far more beloved) at Fringe is the small, simple solo show. Perhaps they are even the bread-and-butter of Fringe, these 7×1 Samurais and McSwiggins Pubs and Mothers of Inventions, compared to the flaming desserts and exotic liquors (to belabor the metaphor) of the Naked Parties and Sticking Places. So it all depends on what you’re looking for.

Cloud Factory is one such gemlike, intimate solo show. Making its U.S. premiere after writer/performer and native New Yorker Alix Sobler debuted it in Canada, it’s the kind of show that fits in a suitcase: a couple basic costume pieces to help indicate character changes, four props (one of them a ukelele), a CD of sound cues and nothing else except for Sobler’s script and talent.

A moment here to acknowledge the excellence of that CD of sound cues, which contains both some spot-on original folk/country music and a superior achievement in the aural evocation of the titular cloud factory – and, no, the title is not a metaphor. It really manufactures clouds. (The explanation for why clouds need to be manufactured in the first place turns out to be one of the show’s cleverest moments, if a brief one.)

The plot concerns a crisis in a fictional small, Southern town called Sommerville, when an incident forces that cloud factory to shut down. The town has been surviving as much on the factory’s income as it has on the tourist draw of having the last operating cloud factory in the United States (all the rest closed down due to competition with Asian factories). The program says that Sobler wrote Cloud Factory after having toured and seen many small towns surviving off their own nostalgia, “because [she] believe[s] in the importance of these small towns for what they have contributed to North America in the past, and what… they have the potential to contribute to our future.”

You can probably get a picture of this show already: folksy, a little bit wistful, with some light humor, a touching and simple love story, sort of like Our Town sans Stage Manager and graveyard. It’s family-friendly and sweet. Sobler is a capable performer; I’ve seen soloists with wider range of voice and gesture, but she gets the job done, and with wit. She portrays about three or four major characters of sympathy and a bit of depth, as well a passel of broader, more generic caricatures who I felt diluted the show’s gentleness and honesty. (Did she need to resort to a stutter and a crosseye for lack of enough ways to distinguish personages?) Overall the show was most engaging when it left its attempts at hokey town-hall social comedy and instead let the characters contemplate the history and personal meaning of this fictional but oh-so-familiar town with its fantasy factory, sketching a story both intimately connected to our national myths and intriguingly relevant in our increasingly globalized world.

As an import from way, waaaay out of state, this show is unlikely to be well-attended due to the lack of local connections; but if it sounds like your thing, there are far worse ways to spend an hour’s time.

See it if: You enjoy documentaries, the History Channel or a quiet afternoon sittin’ on the porch with a friend discussing the state of the nation.

Skip it if: I lost you when I called it ‘folksy.’