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Capital Fringe Festival

Fat Kids are Harder to Kidnap reviewed

If you’ve seen Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind—the innovative devised theater work by Chicago-based company Neo-Futurists—then in a significant way you have already seen Fat Kids are Harder to Kidnap. You will notice the same clothesline with numbered fliers, menu with play titles, and looming timer upstage. Even the language of the curtain speech is roughly the same. However, this similarity should not scare away audiences: Fat Kids are Harder to Kidnap is fun, despite being derivative in every sense of the word.

Very much like the Neo-Futurists’ piece, Fat Kids is based on a simple premise: the performers will put on 20 short plays in 30 minutes. The audience assists the five-person ensemble by selecting scenes/plays from a numbered handout that correspond to the numbered fliers on the clothesline. The audience shouts a number and the actors perform that play.Fat Kids differs Too Much Light in that the plays are teen-friendly, including bits about apps, parents, and the video game Call of Duty.

The performers are largely good but Ross Nasir is a clear standout. She performs a memorable parody of Beyonce’s hit “Irreplaceable” with perfect R&B warble, and is hilarious as a frustrated video game player. She sells one of the performance’s rare high-concept plays. She most fully embodies the energy which all of the performers have throughout; they’re having a great time and you will find it easy to join in the fun.

Fat Kids has a few small, but significant flaws. Allowing that the piece is intended for younger audiences, some of Melissa Sim’s joke writing feels stale. Young audiences will appreciate the lightness of the humor, but they will certainly hear jokes they have heard before. As the troupe is based in Singapore, some of the cultural jokes in pieces like “Singapore in Jeopardy” (for example) simply don’t land well with American audiences.

Fat Kids are Harder to Kidnap might be a hard sell for Fringe audiences because it’s brief, oriented toward young audiences, and offers material that patrons may have encountered before. But the explosive energy of the performers and delightful integration of the audience make Fat Kids worth a viewing. The performances of Fat Kids occur in the upstairs Fringe space making it a convenient refresher to enjoy between more adult shows.

This piece was originally posted on DC Metro Theater Arts

Elephant in the Room reviewed

Elephant in the Room at the Capital Fringe Festival

There is an ancient Indian story that tells the tale of blind men unknowingly encountering an elephant. Based on which part of the elephant they touch, each man proposes that the animal is something else. Elephant in the Room, from San Francisco-based physical theater company Right Brain Performancelab, presents a similar experience for audiences. Depending on which part of the performance you relate to most you may walk away with a different understanding of what the piece is about. That ambiguity, and the refined clowning of the performers, makes Elephant in the Room a treat.

The story is organized around the invisibility of the elephant and a conceit that actors and audience must work together to get the elephant to materialize. Two clowns (Jennifer Gwirtz and John Baumann) conduct and guide the mimed and sung vignettes, all of which allude to the Elephant’s meaning. Sometimes it seems she (the Elephant) symbolizes American apathy. Sometimes it seems she represents the meaning of life. It may be that she stands in for something about the performer and audience relationship. It’s never entirely clear, but seeking out meaning in the vignettes is a fun mental game.

Gwirtz and Baumann have great energy, a quirky sense of humor, and are powerful physical comedians; they’re especially strong in their dealings with the elephant, working together in mime to show the elephant growing and shrinking out of thin air. The pair has been creating experimental physical theater since 1998 and that long-term partnership is clear in their chemistry.

On reflection, it’s amazing that Elephant in the Room uses only one or two props, with no sets. Right Brain Performancelab is brilliantly creative about transforming costume pieces, and their own bodies, into useable props. The world they create with words, music, and movement feels just as full as more traditional theatrical productions. Elephant in the Room adds a healthy scoop of dark philosophy to the typically light fare of clowning.

Elephant in the Room is precisely the kind of show one expects at the Fringe. It’s quirky, and somewhat impenetrable, and the experimental energy is delightful. The performances are professional-grade, but the performers tell you at curtain call that you should find them at the bar. Some may feel around this show and find themselves disappointed, but others will discover they have found just what they were looking for.

This piece was originally posted on DC Metro Theater Arts. 

2016 Capital Fringe Review: ‘Hunt’

Jean P. Bordewich’s political drama Hunt turns back the clock to a divisive time in American politics – the early 1950s of Joseph McCarthy – but the characters and issues resonate in today’s political landscape. A passionate, high-profile Republican who blames minorities for America’s looming downfall. A powerful Democrat too focused on his own ascent to address pressing issues behind the scenes. Well-meaning politicians are caught in bi-partisan crossfire.

Hunt excavates the true story of Senator Lester Hunt (a solid Terry Loveman), who was blackmailed by McCarthyites Senator Styles Bridges (Scott Cummings) and Senator Herman Welker (Gary DuBreuil) in 1953. The Senators’ leverage against Hunt was the initially quiet arrest of his son Buddy (Brice Guerriere) for solicitation of a male undercover cop. Over the course of the play Hunt wrestles with whether to fight the system or give in, receiving help along the way from his insightful wife Nathelle (Suzanne Martin, in a sharp turn) and a kindly reporter (Michael David Anderson).

Despite some shortcomings in the script, Hunt benefits from strong performances. Director Kristin Shoffner manages an expert ensemble that fit well in the period setting. Anderson and Guerriere have a believable rapport, which brings some relief and humanity to the story’s development. Suzanne Martin is delightful to watch as the Senator’s wife, carefully balancing support and strategy. Cummings and DuBreuil are frightening as politicians who embody the banality of evil. Terry Loveman in the title role feels every bit the Wyoming politician: strong, principled, but still insecure at his core.

Costume Designer Julie Cray and, presumably, Shoffner, did strong work on the production design. The costumes and set are 1950s Americana, smartly simple enough to weather the notorious 15-minute Fringe pre-show load-in. Similarly, Lighting Designer Colin Dieck creates moments of thrilling drama using a modest light plot. The work of Composer Josh Harty and Sound Designer Niusha Nawab is complex, weaving original music and sounds from nature into popular songs and news reports from the period.

Audiences coming to the Flashpoint for Hunt will leave with a new perspective on history and, perhaps, even a new understanding of the present. With a disturbingly relevant subject, fabulous performances, and impressive design, Hunt should be near the top of every Fringe itinerary.

The piece was originally posted on DC Metro Theater Arts