Saturday, August 24, 2013

A miscellany of one-performer Fringe shows (plus an ISO tidbit): The Friday report

Not having binged on Fringe this year like some hardy souls, by Friday night I'd still become a little unhinged by Fringe.

My choice of three one-person shows in a row may have had something to do with it.  It's hard for one person, even for one hour, to hold the stage well.  An exception can be made for a good actor's thorough command of a wonderful script, such as what Paul Hansen offers in "The High-Impact Infidelity Diet" and Pat O'Brien in "Underneath the Lintel."

But original material in the hands of a single performer challenges an audience member to lock in instantly and stay hooked.  I will concede that, for most of the audience, Kevin Burke had that knack  at his evening show at ComedySportz, but not for me.

"Sin City Stories" purports to be "true tales of Sin City" (Las Vegas) from a Zionsville resident who had a remarkable run there for six years, chiefly in the hit show "Defending the Caveman." But there were just a few colorful anecdotes buried in a lot of interaction with the audience as Burke laboriously re-created a comedian-psychic shtick.

The link to Las Vegas got pretty thin at times, except for a resemblance to the boisterous atmosphere characteristic of the well-lubricated crowds that the entertainment mecca is famous for.  I hesitate to comment on the condition of the ComedySportz audience in whose company I saw the show, but let's  credit Burke for knowing how to build rapport, even if it seemed he often took the line of least resistance. Furthermore, letting audience members select sketches/topics simply hides an unwillingness or inability to structure a performance from stem to stern.

There was one anecdote each about Redd Foxx, Barry Manilow and a red-carpet encounter with Joe Jackson, but "Sin City Stories"  needed more to paint a complete picture of an environment that must have seemed exotic for a Midwesterner to work in. I wasn't expecting sociology, but perhaps a well-shaped comic monologue lies somewhere within Burke's six years of high-profile exposure to the Strip.

A related show in subject matter occupied the slot just before Burke's Friday:  Katherine Glover delivered a detailed monologue titled "Burning Brothels: Sex and Death in Nevada."  It was an anthology of prostitution lore centered on Nevada's checkered history. Glover appeared to be steeped in the facts and legend of the profession as practiced legally and illegally across that state since the mid-19th century. The showmanship was at a minimal level, however, and — despite the obvious appeal of the topic — a lecture-like vibe hung over her performance.

No such complaint can be leveled against the other one-person show I saw Friday, Kevin Thornton's "Stairway to Kevin" at the IndyFringe Basile Theatre. An autobiographical account of a gay man entering middle age and still bedeviled by the ambition to hit it big in Nashville, Tenn., the show was well-written and well-delivered. Interspersed with some of his songs (self-accompanied on guitar and harmonica), the monologue returns again and again to the nature of forging an identity as an adult. How much should dreams be pursued, and for how long? How keyed should your daily activities be to your ambitions? What kind of experience can clarify the difference between fantasies and realistic goals?

Kevin Thornton reaches at Fringe.

Keen insights couldn't quite hide the danger in such Fringe shows, which can become so self-referential that they depend on eliciting the audience's sympathy, even pity. For the most part, the balance was tipped toward entertainment, but the ghost of ongoing, self-administered therapy hovered over "Stairway to Kevin."

It was just before  Thornton came onstage that I found myself sitting next to Steve Hamilton, new vice president of finance for the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra,  From him I learned that the ISO had placed its musicians in nomination for the Artful Impact Award to be presented at the Arts Council of Indianapolis's annual "Start With Art" luncheon on Friday. But Hamilton acknowledged that in a gesture of magnanimity,  the council expanded the honor to include the staff and boards as well, and so the entire organization received it. The orchestra will need such community recognition and support as it faces a financially perilous future and resists the temptation to dilute its artistic product.