Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Workaday Fringe takes us to new places: The Monday report

The annual IndyFringe Festival is a reminder that Indianapolis' cultural life needn't be reserved for weekends. You can cap every workday this week with an evening of provocative theater and performance art in and around the Massachusetts Avenue Cultural District.

Monday, Monday... I had the pleasure of seeing those artistic triathletes — Fourth Wall Ensemble — in 'Fruit Flies Like a Banana." It's a fast-moving show keyed to a running clock, recalling the unused first half of the show's punning title: "Time flies like an arrow."

The Fourth Wall blends contortions and counterpoint.
Hilary Abigana (flute), Greg Jukes (percussion and accordion) and C. Neil Parsons (bass trombone) cram as much of their 20-item repertoire into the maximum allowable Fringe running time of one hour.  In that sense alone, every patron gets his money's worth. With luck, at least several times in the course of each show, everybody will be wowed by the trio's skill and ingenuity as well: They dance, they play, they recite, they ham it up a little.

Fourth Wallers handle each sketch with utmost dispatch. Then one of the three leaps from the Cook Theater stage with a fistful of large cards, face down and thrust invitingly at one attendee or another. Each audience member thus approached determines by a chance draw what Fourth Wall will do next.

 "Fruit Flies Like a Banana" presents the widest possible spectrum of Fourth Wall material.  I was soothed and inspired by several arrangements of Ralph Vaughan Williams pieces, tickled by a virtuoso rendering of the Russian Dance (Trepak) from Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker," amazed by how they did the opening measures of "Also Sprach Zarathustra," and made to feel like an insider with a sketch that mocked the orchestra auditions that almost every classical musician uses to gain entry to the professional world.

On the other hand, I could have done without two trombone solos nearly obscured by readings from newspaper headlines and comics. Randomness in the selections took a toll on the expressiveness and apparent commitment of Abigana and Jukes. These two sketches seemed as sparse as the average edition of the local daily.

And I was actively annoyed by "Profanity Popcorn," a group exercise in shouted expletives paced according to the sound-texture of popcorn popping: thin to thick to thin again. Many patrons will not feel adequately "covered" by mass participation in an exercise probably best suited to middle-school boys:  I managed only to mutter the name of one of the two major American political parties — an admittedly paltry (and arguably off-topic) contribution to the spirited tastelessness.

Then, eastward ho!  to the IndyFringe Basile Theatre, there to enjoy the versatile Paul Hansen, one of the local scene's most humane actors  (a hard quality to project consistently), in the protean Lou Harry's one-character comedy, "The High-Impact Infidelity Diet."  Anyone who has struggled with weight loss — and, with age, that includes almost all of us — will have heartstrings plucked or vibrated sympathetically in the course of attending this show. Even the perpetually slender should find much to admire here.

Directed by John Thomas, Hansen traces a beautiful arc in portraying Martin, a twice-married man whose private life, as well as the self he presents to the world, bears the indelible impact of obesity. Martin's successful achievement of his weight-loss goal (a process marked by prerecorded, silky-voiced poundage reports) is more moving than such a simple happy ending might suggest. It comes with new insight into Martin's sex life and feelings of self-worth. As Martin sheds pounds, he adds moral heft — a lovely paradox celebrated by "The High-Impact Infidelity Diet."

Body image is never merely about numbers or any other objective measure of how we look: It goes soul-deep, and so does this play.

For a full Fringe schedule covering these two shows and the rest of the festival cornucopia, go here:

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