2018 Fringe Reviews – Day 3
Being a writer can be strange. For Family Friendly Pulp Fiction, I have one tiny cameo so I spend the entirety of every show pacing backstage and hoping the audience laughs at the jokes. Every time they laugh, I feel a sense of relief. Every time they don’t, I’m wondering how I could have written it better.
I think writing comedy is harder than writing drama. Because you don’t know if anyone is going to laugh at what you’ve written until it lands on stage.
Drama is great, mind you. Not trying to cast any shade on the many fine writers of drama. Nor am I suggesting it is easy to write drama. Because, hell, I can’t do it very well.
So maybe what I should say is being a playwright who focuses on comedy is harder until the play gets on stage and people laugh at it. Because then, at least, you know you succeeded.
Anyway, this is what I think about when I’m pacing backstage during one of my shows.
On to what I saw on day 3 of the Minnesota Fringe!
Oh Josh Carson you magnificent bastard.
First off, a mash up of super heroes and A League of Their Own is such a great idea I’m shocked no-one has thought of it before. Hell, I’m shocked Josh never thought of it before. He probably did. He just had other, better ideas he wanted to do first.
Josh writes great comedy. He gets great people to perform his comedy. If he has a weakness, it is that he writes too much great comedy. In super hero terms, that’s not even a major weakness. Poor Superman! He’s too strong! Poor Spider-Man! He’s too good at swinging on webs!
So the biggest challenge faced by this show is the fact the actors are forced to rush through the dialogue simply to get it all in. It is still funny and well acted and everyone should see it. But I keep wondering if the Fringe needs to come up with a special 75 minute slot just for Josh Carson so his actors (and he) can actually enjoy a laugh for a couple of seconds.
That isn’t realistic, of course. And if they did that, Josh would just write more jokes.
I need to quickly point out that Allison Witham’s performance is particularly great. She has nicely understated delivery and facial expressions and I found I was always looking at her when she was on stage.
Hey – speaking of magnificent bastards and comedy writing, how about Tom Reed?
I was surprised by this play because it was a play. I’m used to Reed’s one person shows where he sings and talks his way through a subject. This time, he did some singing and talking but he did it with other actors! I wasn’t expecting that.
His show takes a shot (heh) at the NRA without being wildly anti gun. Which is smart because the minute he became even mildly anti-gun, he’s probably attract protesters.
Just kidding. The Fringe is only ten days long. It might take longer than that to get mobilized.
Just kidding. They can mobilize in five seconds. Only group faster than the is the Westboro Baptist Church.
ANYWAY – the show is really good. And no, it isn’t pro gun. But it does suggest that there might be an acceptable middle ground between ALL THE GUNS and maybe sometimes not all the guns. And it also suggests that teaching our kids to be prepared for the next school shooting might not be as important as preventing the next school shooting.
You might not notice he’s saying those things because you’ll be laughing too hard. Unless you are in the NRA. Then you’ll probably be organizing a protest.
So with a dance piece by Erin Sheppard, it would appear my Saturday morning was just packed with Fringe celebrities.
Sheppard’s dance pieces, especially her horror inspired ones, are always inventive and fun to watch. “Fun” might not be the best word given the macabre themes but I like watching them so I’ll stick with “fun.”
Most of her shows include a storytelling element to tie the show together and (I expect) to give the dancers time to take a quick break and change costumes before the next piece.
The stories by Taj Ruler didn’t entirely sell me in this production. They were short and frequently talked of her thirteen year old self dabbling in witchcraft. There needed to be some sort of bridge.
By this I mean – the story would bridge to the dance thematically, but in the story, the witchcraft didn’t work (because witchcraft doesn’t work), it was a childish fantasy. Then the dances would be about witchcraft that worked but it wasn’t a childish fantasy. It was a dangerous and dark reality.
For some reason, that was a little bit of a disconnect for me.
No matter that disconnect, I’ll watch Erin and company dance whenever I’m able. Her exploration of horror themes through dance is always worth my time.
The third of the shows I’ve written to open, I admit I lacked some level of enthusiasm for this show.
It was originally mounted at the Fringe six years ago and it did very well. I wasn’t ashamed of it. But it had happened, you know? As much as it is nice to have your work performed, I spend a lot of my time thinking about what the next thing is. This was so six years ago.
As we got into rehearsal, though, I remembered how proud I had been of this work.
My genre is to come up with some completely stupid idea (A Family Friendly Pulp Fiction) and then find a way to make it work. That’s what I do. When Bill Stiteler said he’d co-write this show with me, I was happy to have the help.
Because can you really make fun of William Shatner for an entire show?
The answer, really, is no. But we figured out how to make the show about more than Shatner jokes. The end result turned out great. And the actors we have this time around are really killing it.
So yeah, I wasn’t enthusiastic about it at first. But I am now.
The theme of this post apocalyptic play didn’t entirely appeal to me but I can’t complain about the staging. Visually, I really enjoyed it. The scene changes made great use of the Rarig Arena (a space I must admit I hate) and the performances were all really impressive – especially Hannah Steblay, who had a very long and challenging monologue to end the play.
I enjoyed the way the simple set pieces were rearranged to suggest different times and places or even different parts of the same place. The use of several ensemble actors created a sense of danger as the main characters could never really be sure who was on their side and who wasn’t (which is very much the kind of world created by the text).
There were times I was confused if certain characters were supposed to be the same characters we’d seen earlier in the show. It’s possible that the text mentioned names and I completely missed it. In looking up character names later, I got my answers.
This was a polished and well done production of a show I didn’t particularly like. That I wasn’t nuts about the source material is really my problem. The source material was well written and had a lot to say. I guess I wasn’t in the mood to listen to that particular story.
I guess it shouldn’t come as a surprise that a show with five short plays could be a little uneven. Unless every one of the five plays is a masterpiece, you are almost guaranteed that response.
Bits & Bobs was, indeed, uneven. I feel like there were more misses than hits, though.
The acting was all very good and my main criticism would be the writing of the plays presented. Of the five, there was only one I really enjoyed. The rest felt either overly long, overly obvious, or overly obtuse. The final play, in particular about butter heads at a county fair was mostly a single joke (albeit a good one) that stretched beyond the point it was still funny.
I understand why it was last because, seriously, butter heads. Unfortunately, it ended up being a weak finish. There was another play about two people in a memory care unit that could have been sweet but the playwright was focused on a surprise reveal that wasn’t a surprise.
The show wasn’t painfully bad. It wasn’t bad at all. The writing just never drew me in. When I watch something and find myself thinking about it as a writer, I know that the writer left something on the table. I shouldn’t be thinking about how the show was written. I should just be enjoying the show.