Philadelphia Fringe Festival Roundup Part 2
The second weekend of the Philadelphia Live Arts Festival contained two productions that eschew story for emotion, though in seemingly opposite ways, one through an onslaught of words and one through extreme, brutal physicality.
Perhaps the foremost voice of "in-yer-face" theatre movement of the 1990’s was England’s Sarah Kane. With a legacy of only five plays, Kane changed the way theatre was presented before committing suicide in 1999.
"Crave" is her second-to-last play after "4.48 Psychosis," her theatrical suicide note, and perhaps her trickiest. Using four characters named A, B, C and M, the dialogue is a woven quilt of poetry, repetition, brief dialogues and pure emotion.
With no stage directions and no clear story, it is a director’s playground. That is why Theatre Drapeau Rose’s production, under the direction of Sarah P. Robinson, is a relief.
Ignoring any impulse to over-stylize the show, Robinson presents the four actors in simple dress, amongst a dank, cavernous basement. With minimal lighting, movement and sound, the words are the stars here, and rightly so.
Kane’s dialogue, as with all of her plays, combines terrifying revelation, fragile imagery and gallows humor. In her plays, the world is a place where beauty is destroyed by reality. Kane’s suicide, which would come one year after this play’s premiere, is hinted at here in ways that are shockingly understandable.
With such difficult words, it is no wonder that the four hard-working actors (Caroline Crocker, Nathan Foley, Dan Higbee and Amanda Schoonover) rush through the show, bringing it in at a lean 45 minutes. While there are times the production feels more like a speed-through than a performance, there are many wonderful moments throughout.
Particular kudos must be given to the dynamic between Foley and Schoonover. Foley’s hulking presence leads a surprising moment when, as the character "A," he delivers a monologue of pure vulnerability that is the production’s emotional peak. By contrast, Schoonover’s tough exterior and lace-less shoes suggest that perhaps she is not the voice of the playwright, but the playwright herself.
But a play like this is perhaps above interpretation and analysis. Like the best moments in her plays, "Crave" should best be taken as a play that bypasses the frontal lobes and settles, hauntingly, beautifully, in the most temporal part of the brain.
"Crave" runs through September 21 at Power Plant Productions, 233 North Bread Street in Philadelphia. For info or tickets call 215-413-1318 or visit http://livearts-fringe.org/
"The Gate Reopened"
The finest that the human form has to offer is on display at Pier 9, where Brian Sanders’ JUNK is reviving their 2003 hit "The Gate." This remount, entitled "The Gate Reopened," is concerned less with the soul and more with the body.
The eight performers -- Jerrica Blankenship, Gunnar Clark, Teddy Fatscher, Tamar Gutherz, John Luna, Billy Robinson, Tommy Schimmel, and Connor Senning -- are uniformly excellent, putting their bodies to the test as they climb, leap, hang, balance and flip in, on and around a gigantic cage.
Whether slithering through ladders to the music of Carter Burwell or running up fences to a pounding techno beat, Sanders has crafted an hour-long masterpiece which proves that "dancer" and "danger" are only separated by a letter.
The pieces, all excellent, are not connected by a story, but by a physical rage. As the show progresses, the dancers not only strip the cage of its many parts, but also remove their clothing in the process.
But this move is more primal than erotic. The flesh, in contrast to the metal, registers as an angry rejection and dominance of this horrifying technological sculpture.
This culminates in a moment where each dancer climbs to the top of the cage, several feet above solid ground. They each grab the fence behind them and lean forward. They are perched, ready to jump from a height that can only warrant injury.
What happens after that is a truly gasp-inducing moment, and proves why Sanders is one of the most exciting artists working in Philadelphia.
"The Gate Reopened" runs through September 22 at Pier 9, 121 North Columbus Boulevard in Philadelphia. For info or tickets call 215-413-1318 or visit http://livearts-fringe.org/