There are lots of different ways to approach Fringe. Some people meticulously plan out out their schedule with spreadsheets and charts. Others blindly walk into a theater and take whatever is set before them.
Usually, I fall somewhere in the middle. I have a list of shows which I think sound interesting, then I see what’s playing when I’m available. Highly scientific, right? There are a few more items to take into consideration: I’ve tried to provide a good mixture of the various types of shows available at Fringe, tried to cover both a few big-name shows as well as smaller acts with less of a local fan base.
Tonight, I decided to chuck all my planning and thinking out the window and go see the two shows I knew the least about. I wanted to throw my expectations out the window and open myself up to whatever experience I was about to have.
I’m so glad I did.
First up was The Fabulous Problemas, a production of the Celebration Barn Theater in Maine. All I knew about this show was that it contained no dialogue. Normally, that would have sent me running the other direction. I don’t even tend to like music without words, so how would I deal with a play which tried, for a whole hour, to tell a story without saying a word?
Beautifully. It’s your classic story, really: girl meets boy. Girl meets other boy. Boys fight it out. The girl and the boys decide to rob banks together. Hilarity ensues. There’s a caper-y, Bonnie and Clyde feel to the affair with flashes of Thelma and Louise and Mission Impossible.
Think of the show as a kind of silent movie. It’s all broad gestures and big expressions, silly walks and prat falls. Music sets the scene and sound effects from the three talented actors punctuate their exaggerated movements. The closest thing to dialogue is a single song, which gives us the title, but I’d argue it’s not needed. The moment the three decide to team up and become the Fabulous Problemas gang is already explained so clearly through their actions that the song gilds the lily. But it was a minor misstep.
All three actors shine. Amanda Hootari is by turns sweet and menacing, pulling off some big physical stunts in an adorable pair of heels, while Aaron Tucker will ensure you never look at musical chairs quite the same way in one of the show’s cleverest bits. However, Daniel Orrantia’s Gumby-like body steals the show. He slinks and prowls, he woos and stores snacks in his crotch. It’s a stand-out performance in an already stellar show.
The Fabulous Problemas is easily one of my favorite shows of Fringe. It’s something you will not find anywhere else. It’s at once nostalgic and modern and as clear and sharp in its storytelling as any conventional play you’ll find. Do yourself a favor and go see this show. It’s playing at the Fringe Theatre twice more:
Friday, August 24, 6:00 p.m.
Sunday, August 26, 7:30 p.m.
Next up was SimpliCity on the main stage at the Phoenix. Performed by Carlos Monte from Bogota, Colombia (with fellow Colombian Orrantia in Problemas, I had quite the South American theme night), the show is described as a “third world comedy.” I had no idea what that meant, so I decided to find out.
It takes a lot of things to go on stage at the Fringe. It takes heart and guts and balls and lots of other icky yet necessary things. Monte has those things in spades. What he lacked was an audience.
I almost hesitate to mention how small the crowd was, but I have to. As the very smart Hope Baugh pointed out, a teeny crowd can transform the context of a performance. It did in this case. Monte’s disappointment was palpable when he saw the seven of us sitting in that big, empty house. But he stood before us in his tuxedo and tails and told us he wasn’t going to let the small audience bother him. He was going to give his all. He asked us to come with him into a world of imagination and to suspend our expectations. And all seven of us went with him as best we could.
SimpliCity is best described as a one man talent show. There are darkly comedic scenes, like a man is repeatedly thwarted trying to kill himself, including a memorable attempt at suicide by balloon. At the Fringe preview night, that gag had my coworker screaming “Stop it!” and it remains one of the most shocking things I’ve seen at the Fringe. But then there’s salsa dancing. Singing. Bullwhip displays. Drag. Juggling. Acrobatics. More and more and more.
Monte tries to bring us into his world, and it’s obviously a weird and joyful place. But at the same time, he never opens the door quite wide enough. While Monte has an appealing quality that’s both hangdog and hopeful, reminiscent of Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp, the audience can’t quite make out what he sees and what he wants us to experience..The show would be strengthened with a focus on one particular kind of skill–clowning, comedy, sleight of hand, etc.– rather than trying to be all things to all people.
At the end of the show, Monte stood proudly before us. “I don’t care about the size of the crowd,” he said. “I care about what’s in each of your hearts. Thank you.”
My own heart broke for him. To have come so far from home to lay it all on the line for a group of strangers is hard. To walk away from it all with your back unbowed and your spirit unbroken? That’s beautiful. That’s admirable. Thank you, Carlos, for sharing your passion with us.
You can catch SimpliCity at the Phoenix Theatre:
Saturday, August 25, 7:30 p.m.
Sunday, August 26, 6:00 p.m.
And for me, folks? That’s a wrap. In six days, I watched 15 shows and didn’t even scratch the surface. This was my first year truly delving into the weird wonderfulness of the Fringe, and I enjoyed every minute of it. Thanks to all of you who have made it so much fun.
I will be continuing this blog (and making it less ugly), so stay tuned. Know of a show or event I should cover in Indy? Drop me a line.
My tickets were provided courtesy Indy Fringe.