Philadelphia Fringe Festival Roundup
The past weekend, the Philadelphia Live Arts Festival kicked into full swing with some of the finest devised theatre the city has to offer. The following are reviews of three shows that examine the nature of artistic expression in very different ways:
"Red Eye to Havre de Grace"
When a National Park Service ranger takes the stage, spouting some of the facts he normally recites at the Poe House, he takes a moment to inform the audience that the show is going to do "some very cool things." Shortly thereafter, the ranger transforms before our eyes in a trick that is enthralling in its sheer simplicity.
These small, effortless moments of theatrical magic are the fuel of Lucidity Suitcase International’s "Red Eye to Havre de Grace," a surreal re-enactment of Edgar Allen Poe’s mysterious last days.
Director Thaddeus Phillips takes Poe’s writings, real-life eyewitness accounts, a minimal doors-and-chairs set and the haunting music of Wilhelm Bros. & Co., hailing from Minneapolis, but welcome back to this city anytime, and throws it in a blender.
What he comes up with is a haunting chamber piece that is less of a biography and more of an exploration of a mind that is fighting for genius amongst the madness. Ean Sheeny’s unforgettable Poe is haunted not only by the ghost of his wife, a frighteningly physical Sophie Bortolussi, who also choreographed, but also with his own waning notoriety.
The finale, artfully employing a mirror and scored to an inventive use of piano strings, is breathtaking in its beauty. As Poe is close to death, he recites a passage from "Eureka," his attempt to figure out the universe.
It is a compelling final look into the enigma that was Poe.
"Red Eye to Havre de Grace" runs through September 16 at Philadelphia Theatre Company’s Suzanne Roberts Theatre, 480 South Broad Street in Philadelphia. For info or tickets call 215-413-1318 or visit http://livearts-fringe.org/
I feel conflicted reviewing this show as I unexpectedly became a member of the cast. A word of advice to any men attending Charlotte Ford’s supremely entertaining "Bang": If any of the three amazing women in the show ask you to help them with anything, you probably should not accept.
Then again, maybe you should, as it gives you the chance to actively participate in one of the funniest, bravest pieces of theatre this season. Ford, along with Lee Etzold and Sarah Sanford, present a look at the female body that, with its abandon and exuberance, is more enjoyable than any vagina monologue.
In between the Fringe application deadline and opening night of the festival, the female body has become a sudden and unexpected political battleground.
And while "Bang" is one of a handful of Fringe shows exploring femininity, Ford does not seem interested in taking herself seriously. Instead, she, Etzold and Sanford, as three women who find themselves unwilling stars of a sex show, turn the female form into a bare-all celebration.
And they do so with a hilarious series of vignettes involving audience participation, kitchen appliances, cheese balls, orgasm chairs, nude song-and-dance numbers and a short film that proves Ford as one of the boldest theatrical artists in the city.
"Bang" runs through September 12 at the Christ Church Neighborhood House, 20 North American Street in Philadelphia. For info or tickets call 215-413-1318 or visit http://livearts-fringe.org/
"Zero Cost House"
When you are known for works that are, to quote Senator John McCain, "silly", how do you continue to surprise your audience? If you are Pig Iron Theatre Company, you do so with silence.
There is a moment early on in "Zero Cost House", Japanese playwright Toshiki Okada’s world premiere, his first in the English language, when Dito von Reigersberg, portraying Okada, stares at an old photo of himself, albeit one portrayed live by another actor.
He continues to stare in a prolonged, stilled silence. And that moment of stillness from one of Philadelphia’s most physical theatre companies is nothing less than captivating.
Indeed, it is ambitious of Pig Iron to present their least kinetic show on the heels of opening a physical theatre school. But the ambition pays off in this somber, meditative pace.
Okada’s style -- multiple actors playing the same character, slight repetitive movements -- translates well with Pig Iron’s talented five-person cast (which includes Mary McCool, Shavon Norris, James Sugg and Alex Torra), and director Dan Rothenberg unearths great worlds of meaning from the smallest moments.
The script, a autobiographical account of Okada’s relationship to Henry David Thoreau’s "Walden" in the midst of Tokyo’s 2011 tsunami, is mannered and slow, yet also humorous heartbreaking and intense.
Okada is also bringing a production of his triptych of plays "Hot Pepper, Air Conditioner and the Farewell Speech" to the Fringe next week. Hopefully this will not be his last trip to our city.
"Zero Cost House" runs through September 22 at the Arts Bank at the University of the Arts, 601 South Broad Street in Philadelphia. For info or tickets call 215-413-1318 or visit http://livearts-fringe.org/