Saturday, 7/1/17, the penultimate day of Fringeing, was filled with drama and comedy and immersion.
The drama came with “73 SECONDS,” a poignant tribute to the seven astronauts aboard The Challenger in 1986. That was the time they had together in the Space Shuttle before it burst into flames. Through the skilled performances of Oregon actors Nathaniel Dunaway and Sarah Cotter, we learn about the astronautsâ€™ pasts and their pastimes, their families and the heart-rending personal notes they wrote before liftoff. The piece is also a moving contemplation of time and space. Excellently done. One more performance Sunday 7/2 at 7:30pm
“UNDERNEATH THE LINTEL,” by Glen Berger, is dramatic in an antic, frenetic way. Long-time, accomplished, Minnesota-based film, stage and TV actor Pat Oâ€™Brien, who’s been performing this piece for years, takes us inside the mind and life of one nervous, persnickety, obsessive Dutch librarian. In 1996, he stumbles upon a book that was checked out in 1873, and this takes him on a worldwide journey that encompasses the myth of The Wandering Jew and an ultimate belief in God. A spellbinding and terrific performance. One of my picks for Best of the Fringe. See photo.
Under the banner of his L.A. company, Attic Studios, James Carey gives us an instructional hour in “MI CASA, SU CASA, OR HOW TO GET 175 NEW ROOMMATES (AN AIRBNB HOST FINALLY TELLS THE TRUTH).“He’s a proficient performer (who’s also a director and long-time theater instructor), with an ease and naturalness of presentation. There isn’t a hint of â€˜actingâ€™ here. He just seems to be relating his experiences, from the buying of an old, huge, rundown Craftsman house, to his renovations, divorce, and taking in students to help pay the bills. Ultimately, he turns the place into a full-time business as an AirBNB location. We learn a lot about what that entails, how to set limits and rules, etc. I only wish heâ€™d inhabited some of his more colorful characters/guests, with accents and personality quirks, instead of just telling us about them.
On the more comical side (at least, for most of the pieces), San Diego’s New Play Cafe presented six 10-minute plays by local playwrights. “OUT TO LUNCH” was presented in a unique location: the patio of Panera Bread. So, attendees could order food before the show began. The ensemble of seven was adept and convincing. Best of show were Grace Delaney and James P. Darvas. Unfortunately, I never received a list of which writer wrote which piece. Graceâ€™s depressed new widow and befuddled older woman were heart-wrenching. Darvasâ€™ bullying teen and flamboyant, self-obsessed, gay model were delightful.
Also in a comic vein, with a heart, was San Diego funnywoman Myra McWethy and her latest wacky venture “THE HOARDER’S TALK SHOW” (she has actually played the character on The Conan Oâ€™Brien Show several times). Presumably in order to set up her funny, cluttered TV ‘set,’ she was placed on the 5th floor of the Spreckels building, away from all the rest of the Fringe action, with no signage permitted in the theater lobby to help direct people to her performance. It was run in a straight talk-show format, commercials and all, with two local celebrity guests: actors Eileen Bowman and Antonio ‘TJ’ Johnson. Since she had actually pre-interviewed them, what they said in the scripted “show” revealed a good deal of truth about their own pasts and experiences. The performance I attended was a little too free-wheeling, not quite funny enough, and went over the 60-minute timeslot, so I didn’t get to see the real ‘heart’ of the piece that McWethy had promised. One more show today, July 2, at 4pm. She’ll also be doing her show for Comic-Con.
I ended my evening with one of the truly immersive productions of the Fringe. This is the trend nationwide, and though it’s quite popular in New York and L.A., it hasn’t made a big splash yet in San Diego, except for the Car Plays, from L.A., which have been enthusiastically received at two of the La Jolla Playhouse’s past WoW (Without Walls) Festivals. “SWEET DREAMS: THE PROLOGUE,” from L.A., is performed for one audience member at a time. Written by Shine On Collective’s Anna Mavromati and directed by Marlee Delia, it’s pretty intense, and sometimes pretty “in your face” (literally), so it’s not for the faint of heart. And since it’s performed inside a vehicle (the first part in the front seat, and the second in the dark back of the truck), it’s definitely not for the socially squeamish or claustrophobic. This is billed as “the first chapter in a series of immersive productions” (the next installment will be in L.A. in the fall), so you only get introduced to the characters: an agitated young man in the front (Alexander Echols), and a bloodied and weirdly off-kilter young woman in the back (Hannah Faust), and you never really get to any resolution of the mystery of the missing girl, and what exactly happened between these two to make her disappear, or whether she exists in reality or a perpetual dream state. Still, I enjoyed the ‘ride’ (you never actually go anywhere, except into the back, where you have to lie down on blankets and sit on a faux-dirt floor and listen to penetrating, impassioned stories that you donâ€™t really understand). I must confess, it whetted my appetite for more: more immersive theater, and more of this ongoing saga.
Last day of the Fringe today (July 2). Don’t miss THAT 24-HR THING, an intriguing San Diego production, four years running, for which six playwright are given 24 hours to write a ten-minute play. Then, six directors and 18 actors have eight hours to rehearse (and for the actors, to learn their lines) before the performances begin. I can’t wait. 6:30 tonite.