Seattle Fringe Festival Capsule Reviews

Image courtesy of the Seattle Fringe Festival.

Image courtesy of the Seattle Fringe Festival.

Radial Theater Project’s Aisle 9 – An engaged-to-be-married young man (Sam Hagen) meets cute with a young woman (Erin Stewart) out on a scavenger hunt inside a grocery store, the ensuing conversation reveals each character’s quirks along with a strong mutual attraction. This scene, written by K Brian Neel, is the last time this clever and touching play behaves anything like a conventional romantic comedy.

Commissioning new works from local playwrights Keri Healey, and Wayne Rawley in addition to Neel, Aisle 9‘s director and curator, Aimee Bruneau has crafted a piece that generally defies expectations. She has added touches of magic realism and science fiction and different narrative techniques (between-scene-vignettes that serve as exposition and transition, a shopping cart tango) to the story, and ends up exploring a relationship from its cute beginnings through a period of estrangement to a possible reconciliation. All of this in a Fringe friendly running time of less than an hour.

The second scene, by Healey, seemingly revisits a single moment over and over again, with each iteration telling us something different about the characters and the circumstances leading up to the story’s second encounter, which we find in acrimonious disarray. It’s an unexpected experimental structure from Healey, who has been delighting with her side projects of late.

The final scene, written by Rawley, packs a sentimental whallop as the couple get together again during their winter years. Like most other things in this production, it doesn’t go quite as planned, but it’s no less touching for all of that.

If there are negatives to be found, it is only in that once the characters’ quirks are established, not a lot of exploration of their personalities take place. This might be a pitfall of having multiple playwrights, or of the insistence on short narratives that the Fringe format demands. It could also be that it is not this play’s focus.

The performances by Hagen and Stewart render this complaint moot, however. Their sincere and wholehearted gentle energy suffuses the piece with warmth, even as things aren’t going well for their characters. They turn these events into a celebration of two mildly exasperating, if charming, people.

****

Tinfoil/Cardboard Production’s Operation Hibernation – A young woman (Sarah Winsor) an sends an email announcing her decision to hibernate for 30 days, and imploring the recipient not to bother her during this time, nor seek help on her behalf. This email is shared with the audience via voiceover while in darkness at the top of the show. When the lights come up, the woman has already begun her slumber, while her bedmate (Shane Regan) wakes up after their one-night stand.

He is awoken by her friend (Sascha Streckel), who has arrived in order to have an intervention of sorts. Through her, we find out about our erstwhile protagonist’s selfish, over-dramatic nature and motto: “EAT SEX SLEEP REVENGE;” a motto she has literally followed.

But what is the nature of this revenge? Against whom and why? These questions hang in the air as the audience’s attention shifts onto the fact that the man does not leave after finding all of this out. The play becomes a particularly adult inversion of the Sleeping Beauty archetype, as we watch Prince Charming dote and take care of the beauty. In the process, it becomes remarkable just how much the audience is able to stomach pretty creepy behavior on his part (the invasion of her privacy, the fixation on her life, the blooming co-dependency developed without her participation) and excuse it as misguided romanticism. This is leading somewhere, but it won’t be discussed further in order to keep things a secret. Suffice it to say that the production, directed by Annex Theater’s Catherine Blake Smith, leaves an impact.

Meanwhile, Regan’s performance carries the narrative ably, somehow finding the right balance in order to make his potentially off-putting character not only tolerable, but also intriguing and somewhat understandable. Streckel’s presence provides a much needed comedic balance to the piece, as her exchanges with Regan are charged with wit. Winsor, as the Sleeping Beauty, has the unenviable task of not having much to do but provide charisma even in slumber. She does, quite nicely, but it doesn’t distract from the fact that the character is the ultimate passive cypher. We do know what we need to know in order for the plot to propel itself, but not much more — we only figure her out once you put the pieces of her story together after the fact. This is necessary given the story we’re presented, making the choice all the stronger, but it still feels like the hint of a missed opportunity.

All in all, however, Hibernation is an engaging ride, made memorable by its dark and disturbing eddies. Well worth a look.

****

One World Theatre’s Waiting for Godot – This production has been hotly anticipated by some quarters in the theater community for the last couple of months, primarily because of who is involved: One World Theater, is not only responsible for 14/48 but was also one of the more celebrated companies in the local scene during the 90s heyday. They are reviving a production that helped to put the original Fringe Festival on the local map (as well as having a long life being toured both within Washington state and abroad) with 3/4 of the original cast, who have now aged into their roles, fittingly enough. This is precisely the kind of narrative that Fringe Festivals can provide, and the sort of thing theater practitioners can’t resist, the uninitiated are the fortunate bystanders.

For the troupe does not disappoint, delivering a faithful production of Samuel Beckett’s classic that honors his stated preference for a light-hearted comedic touch despite the existential trappings. Adopting a rough and ready Brechtian touch — in which it is constantly acknowledged that this is a play, inside of a theater, with a roomful of people watching — the company goes about diverting themselves while waiting for…well, you know the story, so let’s focus on the individual parts.

Shawn Belyea and Jeff Page, as Gogo and Didi respectively, embody their roles with a mixture of weariness and a showman’s panache. Page is particularly dexterous in delivering Didi’s tangential observations, while Belyea’s buoyant energy helps to keep things aloft. Tim Moore is able to display his fondness for crisp caricatures as Pazzo, and K Brian Neel (who has a hand in three separate Fringe entries this year) is characteristically hyper-energetic as Lucky, as well as surprisingly viscous –you’ve been warned.

Seeing as the performance seen by your correspondent was the group’s first in front of an audience in almost two decades, it was expected for it to be a little rough around the edges, but really the main demerit was that it felt rushed at times. This can be ascribed both to jittery nerves and to the Fringe format’s international preference for shorter running times, which can be both a blessing and a curse, which itself is a discussion for another forum.

This niggle aside, the production is still able to deliver Beckett’s loftier notions, and while further performances will sharpen the troupe’s ability to add sharpness and heft to these ideas, they are already quite affecting in spite of (or perhaps because of) the limitations placed on them. Hopefully, this won’t be the last we see of these performers in these roles.

The Seattle Fringe Festival is running through this Sunday, a complete calendar of performances can be found on their website // Several venues on Capitol Hill // Individual shows for $10, various other packages are available