Sunday, August 18, 2019

Crowded third Indy Fringe Festival day: Series of four shows, ending in mind games

The people in "Orgasmo Adulto" are clownishly at odds with the world.
Individuality throbs with lapel-tugging insistence at the Indy Fringe Festival, so it's not untypical that three of the four shows I saw Saturday afternoon and evening were solo showcases.

The exception, which was welcome to me for its boisterous variety and consistent nose-thumbing at social norms, was NoExit Performance's "Orgasmo Adulto Escapes from the Zoo," a collection of short pieces by the late Italian radical couple Dario Fo and Franca Rame.

The troupe is fully invested in the Fo-Rame style of theatrical provocation and stylization of props, gesture, and costuming derived from commedia dell'arte.  There is no character development or nuance; rather, there's character exposure with heavy, thick outlines around the monologues. Carrie Bennett plays "A Woman Alone" who's kind of an oversexed, imprisoned version of Lucille Ball ditsiness. Religion and politics are tossed together and upended from the same apple cart in Am Elliott's portrayal of "The Freak Mommy."

Since the actors differ from piece to piece and are subsumed in production elements, you'll get a strong sense of NoExit's collective achievement even before the show's finale, "We All Have the Same Story." There, director Beverly Roche narrates a fairy tale from an outsize book while a cast of four mimes a liberally scatological story. Messiness is crucial to the action, much of which is meant to be appalling. The line between parturition and defecation is blurred, for one thing. Shape-shifting and juvenile humor abound; the very idea of innocence and happy endings, so crucial to the bedtime story genre, is shattered. The shock to the system is well-earned and well-rendered by this production.

My afternoon began with "Vixen DeVille Revealed," in which comedy burlesque is presented through a mix of performance, searing autobiography, and motivational speaking. Cat LaCohie is a fast-talking, foul-mouthed British comedienne who has fashioned a show that's both uplifting and down-and-dirty. The technical side could have been better in some respects, chiefly the video segments in which images and words on the right side of the screen were missing. Audience participation plays a role in allowing Vixen to deliver lessons in the magic of performance and the performance of magic. Having recently moved through recovery from a shoulder injury, I was particularly touched by the performer's story of the much more serious one she rebounded from.

Fringe solo shows tend to compel us to bond with the performer's story, allowing for whatever degree of tale-spinning works for him or her to keep the entertainment value uppermost. The tension we might feel with memories of strangers bending our ear with personal sagas on long flights is part of what such shows both work with and work against.

With that in mind, I was enthralled by "Adventures While Black in Great Britain," torrentially delivered in Les Kurkendaal-Barrett's monologue. The frame tale of his husband's struggle for approval from an immigration official worked well as a device for placing the performer's sojourn with his new British family in context. The complexity of misadventures and bonding was vividly presented; he made strong narrative order, complete with deft mimicry, out of the disorder of his UK experience. He exulted in the outcome, and he persuaded us to feel the same.

After having my inhibitions shattered by "Orgasmo Adulto Escapes from the Zoo," it was relaxing to end my Fringe day with "Brain-O-Rama: Mentalism and Mischief" by Kevin Burke. Burke paced his show well, and responded expertly to audience participation of both the solicited and the spontaneous kind. Any heckling he got was gentle and basically friendly; I have a feeling he could have readily dispatched the hostile variety.

He projected a guy-next-door persona as an offhand master of magic and mentalism. He played with the audience's reluctance to get involved, yet seemed to draw out the best sort of participation from his ad hoc assistants. The mood stayed buoyant and supportive — and mildly naughty. Just as we often say about gifts that are unwanted: It's the thought that counts. In this case, however, the gift of "Brain-O-Rama"  turned out to be exactly what I wanted.

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