Now in its 14th year of inspired, quirky, performance, Water Tower Theatre’s OUT OF THE LOOP FRINGE FESTIVAL provides its eager audience with another diverse array of intriguing, thought provoking works of promise. I’m not seeing everything by a long shot (pothole blown tire assured that tonight), but here are capsule reviews of what I’ve had the pleasure to experience, so far. In order of viewing….
Patrick O’Brien: The Fever by Wallace Shawn
O’Brien wooed and wowed both critics and crowds with his sold out performances of Underneath the Lintel (by Glen Berger) in 2013, earning a Best of the Loop for his solo endeavor. Naturally, I put his current one-man show, Wallace Shawn’s unrelenting Marxist diatribe against wealth and complacency called The Fever, at the top of my viewing list. O’Brien is an experienced, impressive actor with a nuanced skill set. He makes the most he can of Shawn’s piece, but frankly it doesn’t give him much to do but harangue. And harangue some more. In between rhetorically vomiting into a toilet in a corner of some fictitious Third World Country hotel room. Shawn developed the piece in the early 1990’s to lambaste his well-heeled, complacent friends with, performing it at their dinner parties. Life of the party? He won an Obie Award with it, presumably because he’s Wallace Shawn. In his 2007 New York Times review, Charles Isherwood described the work as a “corrosive exercise in theatrical conscience-baiting” and said of Shawn’s performance, “I think Shawn overestimates his audience’s taste for self-flagellation by a good half-hour.” I agree. In 2004, Vanessa Redgrave starred in a film version. Patrick O’Brien is a strong, talented actor. The Fever doesn’t let us enjoy his range and skill as Underneath the Lintel did.
Water Tower Theatre: The Spark
Now here’s a tasty delight, not fully baked, but well on its way as a charming fairy tale for all ages, akin to St. Exupery’s The Little Prince. Written and directed by Kelsey Leigh Ervi, it’s conceived and realized as a musical play with puppets in collaboration with puppeteer Kyle Igneczi. The show portrays the journey of a young girl searching for “The Lost Firefly Tribe of Antarctica” with an imaginary friend and connecting with her estranged father along the road to adulthood. A tad light and trite in respect to dialogue, all correctable with thoughtful rewrites, the work soars when its main characters launch on their magical journey and the dancer/puppeteers engage with shadow or found object puppets. The set is simple and uncomplicated; light plays an integral element in evoking the reality of the fantasy worlds. The five actors scramble on and off like clockwork, playing a variety of roles and moving the few set elements on and off with fluidity. It takes the audience on a sweet ride full of original music and loving revelation. The puppets are true wonders of invention. This worthy collaboration has a promising future, with a more developed script.
Danielle Georgiou Dance Group: NICE
This is a comprehensive, multidisciplinary, masterful work, seething with dramatic tension…and a shame to miss. Possibly the triumph of this year’s LOOP? Since 2011, DGDG has created performance pieces that delve into social and psychological issues, using choreographed contemporary dance and physical theatre in ways that eviscerate the fourth wall, confront convention and inspire audience engagement and reflection. Visually stunning and horrifying as the ten actor/dancers mesmerize the audience with ritualized courting and simulated violence, Georgiou’s troupe explores modern Western society’s sexual and social guidelines. The unexpected overlay of narrative spoken word and synthesized musical accompaniment by NPR affiliate Paul Slavens adds an element of patriarchal absurdity, dripping with humor and sarcasm. The addition of regional leading actor Justin Locklear adds defined theatricality to the ensemble, blending with the choreographed movement in an effective way that fully emphasizes the work’s multidisciplinary ethos. I’m not being nice. Don’t miss it.
Rite of Passage: Standing 8 Count
Rite of Passage’s Clay Wheeler directs regional respected actor Van Quattro in Quattro’s solo confessional about love, boxing and survival, based on Quattro’s experience as an unfocused, lovelorn, drug and alcohol-abusing young man in California in the 1970’s. The piece reveals Quattro’s distinct talent for vivid storytelling, leaping to life with gritty, engaging vitality. Quattro wanders between snapshots of reality and self-analysis, against a projected backdrop of 1970’s photographs, interspersed with air guitar snippets of rock and love ballads from the era. Quattro portrays interactions with his father and boxing coach and converses with his ex-girlfriend’s disembodied voice before her projected photograph. His transitions from the immediately real to remembered moments seem jumbled and confusing at times. It isn’t always clear when his younger self experiencing life switches into his adult self recalling and describing incidents, then back again. But that’s what the Loop Festival is for, right? It gives artists opportunity to take risks, put nascent work out there, raw, in front of live, receptive audiences, find out where the creative process could/should lead next. Van Quattro sweeps his audience along on his life ride with brutal honesty. You feel his suffering, and he makes you care. You want him to find a real source of self-worth, cheer him along like a young Rocky Balboa, without all the Hollywood hype. Both Quattro and Wheeler know their craft well; I’m sure they will fine-tune the show’s rough spots before the next solo festival. Quattro lays his heart and soul bare. That takes courage. Standing 8 Count’s artistry gives it universal validity as a performance piece, to be fondly recalled well after the performance ends.
AMERICAN THEATRE MAGAZINE article about “Out of the Loop”:
Water Tower Theatre’s 2015 Out of the Loop Fringe Festival runs through March 15 at the Addison Theatre & Conference Centre, in north Dallas. See the website for up to date scheduling.
No more pothole tire blowouts, please!!!