Think of the Fringe Festival as a bubbling spring. No matter how hard you try, you’ll never drink the spring dry. I’m not sure it’s physically possible to see every show on offer, even if you had unlimited time and funds. So since you can’t do it all, you experience the festival in different ways. Some days, you choose to daintily sample from the spring, sipping on one or two shows and going on your merry way. And some days, you choose to stick your whole head in the stream and guzzle until your belly wants to explode.
Guess which kind of day I had?
Starting at 1:00, I hit four shows back to back. It’s a lot of theater, but with four incredibly different shows, it made for an interesting afternoon.
First up was Do Re Me Fa So Latino. Anyone else bothered that “Me” is spelled wrong in the program (though it’s correct on the website)? Or want to do the musical hand signs when they say the title? Just me?
Musical nitpicks aside, this show focused, obviously, on Hispanics in America, using playwright Carlos Portillo’s own experience as a Honduran immigrant as inspiration, intercut with more over-the-top snippets involving the first Hispanic (and non-citizen) president, an I Love Lucy parody, a terrorist border crossing and more.
Portillo is joined by the immensely talented Keegan Lampert. Keegan has a fast-talking sense of humor and perfect comedic timing that provided the biggest laughs of the show. Other highlights included the two gameshow segments. In “Mexican-Looking or Not?” the audience was asked to determine if a pictured individual was Mexican or not. It was depressing when an entire roomful of Hoosiers (including yours truly) was unable to recognize that Felipe Calderon was not just Mexican, but actually the sitting president of Mexico.
“Truth or Stereotype?” was the show’s most thought-provoking segment. When presented with a stereotype, such as “All Hispanic households include at least eight related or unrelated people,” no matter what the audience member responded, the answer was the opposite. Truth? “You’re a racist!” he cried. Stereotype? “What’re you talking about, that is fact, you can Google that shit!” It served as a potent reminder that stereotypes contain a nugget of truth and can be potent tools for uniting groups and serving as defense mechanisms against a hostile world.
The show has some uneven portions, but I believe both Portillo and Lampert have bright futures on the arts scene that will shine with a bit more seasoning. See for yourself at their remaining shows, on the Mainstage at the Phoenix Theatre:
Sunday, August 19, 10:30 p.m.
Monday, August 20, 7:30 p.m.
Friday, August 24, 6:00 p.m.
Saturday, August 25, 4:30 p.m.
Sunday, August 26, 7:30 p.m.
Next, I headed downstairs to the lower stage of the Phoenix, which is sponsored by Storytelling Arts of Indiana. Storyteller Mary Hamilton presented Feed Your Nightmares, a collection of eerie tales, many indigenous to her native Kentucky. Audiences choose from a menu of possible stories, so each performance is unique.
Storytelling is the oldest of all art forms. Since there have been humans, we’ve sat around campfires and told each other stories. And since those early days, we’ve also tried to scare the pants (or loincloths) off each other. Every time we listen to a storyteller, we’re connected in a long chain back to our earliest days and our deepest humanity.
Hamilton does an excellent job at creating that connection. She whispers and thunders; she exaggerates or downplays her accent; she uses the shadows and the creepiness of that underground theater to its full advantage. She’s an accomplished storyteller who knows and loves her craft. The stories were interesting, though apparently mothers in Kentucky are unusually murderous, since both “Little Ripen Pear” and “Flannel Mouth” feature murderous mommies and were perhaps a bit similar. It was also fascinating to look for similarities with more well-known tales–“The Blue Light” seems to be a variation on Bluebeard’s Wives, while “Little Ripen Pear” shares a core with stories and ballads like “The Twa Sisters” and “The Singing Bone.”
This isn’t the flashiest of Fringe shows, but it’s simple and very, very effective at what it does. While I may not be losing any sleep over the tales, the hour with Hamilton flew by. Catch the rest of her shows:
Sunday, August 19, 7:30 p.m.
Wednesday, August 22, 6:00 p.m.
Saturday, August 25, 10:30 p.m.
Sunday, August 26, 4:30 p.m.
It was something of a shock to find myself outside after the show in bright sunshine instead of gloomy night, but I managed to find my way across the street to ComedySportz for CabarGAY! Performed by the Indianapolis Men’s Chorus, this is a straightforward cabaret-style show featuring musical theater selections, with a special emphasis on Sondheim.
When I sat down to write this review, I was all full of smart remarks about how for a show called CabarGAY!, there weren’t very many sequins. Or Liza Minnelli songs. Or hell, a single number from RENT. Then I realized how offensive that thinking was. This isn’t a show that fits into neat stereotypes (call back to Do Re Me Fa So Latino. We’re learning from Fringe, ya’all). It’s just a bunch of regular, everyday guys who love to sing and who happen to be gay.
The show starts with “Taylor the Latte Boy,” the amusing story of a romance played out over a Starbucks counter, though later in the show we see things aren’t quite as they appear when Taylor gets to tell his side of the story. A performance of “Marry Me Little” from Company was poignant, since in Indiana, none of these men can currently be married in the eyes of the state. I also enjoyed a sweet duet of “Lily’s Eyes” from The Secret Garden. There were a few strange song selections–“A Little Priest” from Sweeney Todd is a comedic, dark number that requires knowledge of the show’s story line to enjoy, and may not have been the best selection. But by and large, the solo numbers and duets were enjoyable.
But the show was at its best when the entire choir was singing together. They have a lush, huge sound that filled the little theater. “Officer Krupke” from West Side Story was playful, but the best number of the show was “Our Time” from Merrily We Roll Along, which the choir described as their theme song. “It’s our time, breathe it in/Worlds to change and worlds to win.” You could see how much those words meant shining in each man’s eyes. We’ve come a long way, but we’ve got such a long way to go.
CabarGAY! is a fun, unadorned show performed by guys having a blast and leaving their guts on the stage. Catch their show:
Sunday, August 19, 7:30 p.m.
Monday, August 20, 7:30 p.m.
Friday, August 24, 6:00 p.m.
Saturday, August 25, 1:30 p.m.
Sunday, August 26, 10:30 p.m.
After a brief break for a Flying Cupcake (try the salted chocolate), I descended back into the darkness of the lower stage at the Phoenix for Storms Beneath Her Skin with Rebecca Kling. Kling is a pre-operative male-to-female transgender. Her one woman show is the highlight of Fringe so far for me. It’s a monologue of Kling’s personal experiences, interspersed with poetic interludes and clever use of video. The performance is funny, honest, and deeply thought provoking on the nature of gender, sex, and identity.
Kling is a patient host who offers to answer questions about her experiences, though she makes sure we’re all clear that she’s one woman speaking about her own experiences and not necessarily representative of all trans. At the same time, she understands this is an uncomfortable subject for most people, but she refuses to apologize for it. She talks about the gender reassignment surgery she will one day undergo in excruciating detail. I found myself crossing my legs uncomfortably and I don’t even have a penis. Kling isn’t afraid to be angry. She isn’t afraid to be sad. She isn’t afraid not have all the answers. What she does, and does beautifully, is to ask the right questions. What makes a man? What makes a woman? Is it genitals, chromosomes, hormones, how we present ourselves to the world or how we view ourselves?
“We pretend gender is this simple thing. It’s not,” she says. It’s not binary, man and woman, male and female, him and her. “Gender anarchy is scary, but intensely liberating.” How much easier would our lives be if we could eliminate the male/female divisions that create artificial barriers between us? If we didn’t say, “Oh, that’s a girl thing,” or “boys will be boys”? How much easier would it be just to be ourselves if we didn’t have that looming question of how we fit into society’s neat pink and blue boxes and instead just were whoever and however the hell we want to be?
Kling’s show is everything a Fringe show is supposed to be. It’s heartfelt and funny and risky and daring. It makes you think and question things you thought you knew. See it:
Sunday, August 19, 9:00 p.m.
Tuesday, August 21, 6:00 p.m.
Wednesday, August 22, 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, August 25, 3:00 p.m.
And, whew! It’s been a full and crazy day. What have you seen? What’s awesome? What should I make sure not to miss?
My tickets were provided courtesy of IndyFringe