2010 Fringe reviews

Here are my 2010 Fringe reviews (and a couple by a friend or two):

Fringe review: ‘Annie Todd: The Demon Orphan of Fleet Street,’ Greater Orlando Actors Theatre, Orlando.

By Elizabeth Maupin

The sun may not come up for Little Orphan Annie in Greater Orlando Actors Theatre’s Annie Todd, the Demon Orphan of Fleet Street. But co-writers David Strauss and Nicole Carson ought to be given something – a lifetime supply of Sondheim records? free mangy-dog kibble? – for their idea to cobble together Annie and Sweeney Todd, maybe the two most diametrically opposed musicals in musical-theater history. The result may not be genius, but it’s pretty funny, and it’s especially satisfying that everybody involved, from the dastardly characters to the paying audience, gets what they deserve.

Daddy Warbucks says Annie died of freckle cancer, but she’s really been hiding out, lying in wait to avenge what she thinks is the death of her beloved Sandy. From the beginning the writers get it right: “Attend the tale of Annie Todd / Her hair was red and her eyes were odd.” And the 10-member GOAT ensemble sounds pretty swell (although a lot of the solo pieces leave more to be desired.)

So “Hard Knock Life” becomes “Big Sharp Knife” and “Easy Street” turns into “Mystery Meat,” but Miss Hannigan (Carson) is as relentless as ever: “OK, girls,” she says, “it’s time for your Ambien.” Brett Carson makes a suitably evil-but-conflicted Daddy Warbucks, and Mira Strauss is an otherworldly Annie, full of confidence and looking as if she just wandered in from Children of the Corn.

Some of the one-liners aren’t remotely funny, and Nicole Carson has nearly the only strong voice in the lot. But director Paul Castaneda and his company have delivered just what they promised with this musical-theater mashup. Now if they can only figure out a way to do away with Oliver!

Remaining performance: 6:40 p.m. Friday 5/28. Also, Patrons’ Pick performance 11 a.m. Monday 5/31. Green venue.

Fringe review: Aphrodite’s Dungeon, Buddah Kahn Productions, Orlando

By Dean Johnson

Turns out Aphrodite is the Oprah of the gods. In the pilot for a talk show, which Fringe audiences are sitting in on, the goddess of love and beauty (played by Sarah Lee Dobbs) brings out contestants (here are Narcissus and Echo now), and the audience gets to vote on which one to punish for stated transgressions.

Funny idea.

The opening performance Saturday afternoon  was maybe not quite ready for prime time – a few missed cues there, flubbed lines there – but this is still a pretty funny show. Inconsistent, but funny. Inconsistent acting, too – some of the performers, many of them theme-park veterans, are Equity good, others not so much.

There are modern-day references (Sarah Palin, Appliance Direct); there are clever commercials, especially one for Poseidon’s Summer, a douching product; and there’s a Zeus who channels Woody Allen.

A bonus: When the wise Miami (an amusing Lisa Sleeper) shows up, she brings Rice Krispie cookies with her, and those of us in the front row got a treat.

Remaining shows: 2:50 p.m. Sunday 5/23; 10:30 p.m. Monday 5/24; 7:10 p.m. Tuesday 5/25; 11:40 p.m. Thursday 5/27; 9:35 p.m. Saturday 5/29. Green venue.

Fringe review: ‘The Bike Trip,’ Martin Dockery, New York, NY

By Elizabeth Maupin

Last year, Martin Dockery took Fringegoers on a journey across West Africa. This year’s journey is a trip of another kind – a expedition to another country, yes, but also one into the reaches of his own heart and mind. To say that The Bike Trip is mind-expanding is not doing it justice: It’s a thrilling exploration of community and self.

It’s also a good time, Dockery’s tale of traveling to Basel, Switzerland, to trace the path of Dr. Albert Hofmann, the chemist who discovered LSD and who, after taking an unintentionally large dose one day in 1943, was sent home from his office on an anxiety-ridden bicycle trip. But Dockery’s story isn’t just of following Hoffman’s bike tracks. It’s also the tale of a young man who hangs back from the crowd, who can’t commit himself completely to a relationship, who doesn’t speak the language, who feels left out. And it’s the very funny account of a man who notices things – who refers to a strange-looking family in Haight-Ashbury as “undead dreadheads,” who describes the experience of using an Indian outhouse so graphically – and hilariously – that you may scratch the entire subcontinent off your list.

Dockery’s also good at personifying the paranoia that he and Hofmann seem to have shared under the influence, and he’s a master at weaving together three or four seemingly unrelated threads. To call someone like him or TJ Dawe a storyteller somehow underplays their gifts. Call them spinners, because their stories make you spin.

Remaining shows: 8:10 p.m. Monday 5/24, 10:20 p.m. Friday 5/28, 2:10 p.m. Saturday 5/29, 3:25 p.m. Sunday 5/30. Silver venue.

Fringe review: ‘The Blood Feather,’ Uncarved Block Productions, Clermont, FL

By Elizabeth Maupin

The kind of horror no person should have led to Sarai Goley’s writing The Blood Feather, a first-person account of her relationship with an abusive boyfriend and her difficulty in breaking free. Like the Fringe’s other solo show about sexual violence, T-O-T-A-L-L-Y, The Blood Feather can make you reel, and it can bring your own blood to a boil. Only Goley’s inexperience in writing and staging her own show keeps this drama from having the impact it could have.

Goley is turning 26 at the beginning of her play: She works at a restaurant, hangs with her friends and lives with a man who has nothing good to say to her. He abuses her verbally, disapproves of everything she does and every so often beats her. And, despite what seems to be a loving family and supportive friends, she can’t make herself leave.

As a performer, Goley can be lively and graceful (she’s especially funny at the top of the show when she dances in what’s supposed to be a cocaine-induced mania), and she tells her story with conviction. But the script is prosaic to a fault: There are long stretches when the conversations are little more than “WTF.” And an experience director might have led her not to try to play herself and the boyfriend in the same scene, looking one way and then the other, an effect that comes off less serious than silly.

The Blood Feather moves slowly, but the long scenes with the nasty boyfriend give you time to think: Why is this woman sticking around with a brute when she has family and friends? Why do women (and some men) stay in physically abusive relationships? There are few answers here – but Goley allows important questions to be asked.

Remaining performances: 7 p.m. Wednesday, 5/26, 6:30 p.m. Friday 5/28, 2:20 p.m. Saturday 5/29, noon Sunday 5/30. Pink venue.

Fringe review: ‘A Brighter Shade of Blue,’ Paul Strickland, Louisville, KY

By Elizabeth Maupin

Paul Strickland is divorced.

He wants you to know that up front because, well, Strickland’s take on his marriage is one with his take on pretty much everything else. He’s a natural negative guy, he’ll tell you. He’s working on finding some happiness. But happiness is like Bigfoot, Strickland says: You have to believe in it, and then you have to go out and find it.

Happiness may be just a bit out of his reach, but comedy is safely in his grasp in A Brighter Shade of Blue, Strickland’s solo show. Looking eternally bemused, Strickland talks about his childhood home in Pensacola (a trailer park called Hope Grounds), a slew of dimwits in small-town Arkansas and his ongoing differences with his ex-wife, which probably seemed monumental at the time but come across as laughable now.

Strickland has terrific timing and a way with words that’s unusual for a standup comic: He’s interested in why people use the words they do, and the sounds of those words – words like “dang-durn” – fit their users. Maybe he calls himself a pessimist, but I beg to differ: You can’t be entirely negative and put together a show as wistful and hopeful as this.

Remaining performance: 5:40 p.m. Sunday 5/30. Brown venue.

Fringe review: ‘Canuck Cabaret,’ Bundle of Joy, Regina, Saskatchewan

By Elizabeth Maupin

If your idea of Canada is a bland, agreeable country to our north, the country with the world’s longest coastline and the birthplace of William Shatner and Joni Mitchell, your horizons may be expanded a bit with Canuck Cabaret, Paul Hutcheson and Sharon Nowlan’s 55 minutes of retro vaudeville.

Someone described it to me as The Ed Sullivan Show without Topo Gigio, but I think of it (the Sunday version, at least) as 21st-century burlesque – a little humor, a little poetry and some stripping, which is an odd combo for 11 on a Sunday morning, I can tell you. (The non-Sunday shows are different, I’m told.)

Hutcheson, who looks a bit like George Clooney, tells one of the stories from his solo show, Third Time Lucky, and he goes all serious with a list of three things the U.S. can learn from Canada. (Hint: They’re political, and he’s right.)

Nowlan bills herself as Miss Prairie Fire, who does a slightly salacious whip demonstration and an old-style fan dance; in between, guests from other Fringe shows do their things. Sunday morning’s version was rather too full of strippers for my taste (after four days of Fringe, I’ve had enough of stripping). But the good will of our neighbors to the north makes even the stripping look … well, nice.

Remaining shows: 7:40 p.m. Monday 5/24, 11:30 p.m. Tuesday 5/25, 7:10 p.m. Thursday 5/27, 11:55 p.m. Friday 5/28, noon Sunday 5/30. Orange venue.

Fringe review: Capt. Discovery and ‘Escape to Planet O,’ Jeff Ferree, Orlando

By Elizabeth Maupin

On a Fringey scale of 1 to 10, the experience of seeing Capt. Discovery and ‘Escape to Planet O’ is a 19.

First of all, it’s performed in a janitor’s closet off the lobby in the Lowndes Shakespeare Center – the newest Fringe performance space, dubbed the Jamie Mykins Theater for the local puppeteer extraordinaire.

Second, the venue is set up for two audience members, but the show’s creators are eager to accommodate. I saw Capt. Discovery with seven other people, and I suspect the viewing was all the better for it.

Capt. Discovery is a 10-minute sci-fi puppet show, in which our hero and two trusty sidekicks (one a glamorous woman in pearls and the other a nerdish young man in a nifty tie) have a run-in with some very tall, skinny mushroom people and various other extraterrestrial ne’er-do-wells. Turns out that males are prized in this other world because they’re turned into sperm donors – and also that Capt. Discovery is something of a ‘60s-era sexist. (I hissed, although no one else joined me.)

Ferree and Sophia Wise handle all the puppetry, and they do it admirably; I especially liked the talking eyeball (which looked more like a watermelon to me, but then most of what I could see of it was the inside of its mouth).

All in all, it’s the Fringiest thing at the Fringe – and if your glasses get knocked askew by an overzealous puppet, well, that’s just part of the adventure.

But be forewarned: Get in line early because, well, seating and standing are both limited. What Ferree has on his hand is a show that sells out, three or four times over, every night of the week.

Remaining shows: 9 p.m. Tuesday 5/25, 9 p.m. Wednesday 5/26, 9 p.m. Thursday 5/27.  Also, Patrons’ Pick performances noon, 1 p.m., 2 p.m., 3 p.m., 4 p.m., 5 p.m., 6 p.m., 7 p.m., 8 p.m., 9 p.m., 10 p.m. Monday 5/31. Studio C (Jamie Mykins Theater), Lowndes Shakespeare Center.

Fringe review: ‘Chained to Freedom,’ Open Door Productions, New York, NY

By Elizabeth Maupin

Alan Bounville is a man with a mission. Bounville wants to change the laws that deny gays and lesbians the same civil rights enjoyed by heterosexuals. Chained to Freedom is the story of his fight.

It’s not an especially unusual story, although it turns out that Bounville slightly knew Ryan Skipper, the gay man who was beaten and stabbed to death in rural Polk County in 2007 and has become known as Central Florida’s Matthew Shepard.

But it wasn’t Skipper’s murder that galvanized Bounville: It was the refusal of his own employer, Orlando Health, to grant domestic-partner benefits. Bounville quit his job, picketed at a corporate-sponsored event and then moved to New York to fight the fight ion a national scale.

Good activists aren’t always practiced actors, and Bounville could work on speaking up and on not making his material sound so melodramatic. (In drama, less is often more.) Still, a little agitprop theater is nearly always a good thing. I only wish Bounville weren’t preaching to the choir.

Remaining shows: 8:35 p.m. Tuesday 5/25, 10:10 p.m. Wednesday 5/26, 5:10 p.m. Friday 5/28. Yellow venue.

Fringe review: ‘The Cody Rivers Show Presents: Right Back Where We Finished,’ The Cody Rivers Show, Bellingham, Wash.

By Elizabeth Maupin

Mike Mathieu and Andrew Connor come on like Hari Krishnas dressed by the management of Howard Johnson’s: The orange and turquoise vests and clamdiggers are HoJo’s all the way, but their intensity reminds you of the shaved-headed people who used to ask for money in airports. In The Cody Rivers Show Presents: Right Back Where We Finished, the two may be teenage-science nerds with a mania for ping-pong and a Japanese version of rock/paper/scissors, or they may be two old codgers explaining how they learned to fox-trot. Whatever they’re doing, they do it with such focus, such athletic grace and such a heightened sense of fancy that you feel you’ve entered an alien world – the kind of world where everything is for a purpose, if you only knew what that purpose might be.

This version of The Cody Rivers Show, like the two the Fringe has seen before, seesaws between Mathieu and Connor’s preoccupation with words – lists of seemingly unrelated nouns that eventually become a succinct little story, lists of names, long words that stand for something short – and elaborate, hilarious choreography that can involve headstands, inane hand-waving and tongues.

There’s no point in describing what it is these guys do, even if you could – except to say that they do it so beautifully that you want to see them do it again. Watch, and wonder.

Remaining shows: 2:50 p.m. Sunday 5/23, 7:40 p.m. Tuesday 5/25, 10:30 p.m. Thursday 5/27, 6:40 p.m. Friday 5/28, 6:55 p.m. Saturday 5/29. Orange venue.

Fringe review: ‘Copping a Craigie,’ Freeline Productions, Orlando

By Elizabeth Maupin

You’re entering sitcom-land with Copping a Craigie, R.T. Robeson’s mild comedy about a slew of underemployed people who decide to make some bucks selling their sexual services on Craigslist. Last year Robeson’s Fringe entry was a gay-sex fantasy called Hooked; this year he sticks to the internet, but the result works better, even if all too often the play comes across as an episode of Three’s Company or Mork and Mindy Go Online.

This script still struggles with storytelling: I don’t know any grown men who talk to teddy bears, save Sebastian Flyte in Brideshead Revisited, and Orlando’s Craigslist site must be pretty diminutive if the same half a dozen people keep meeting up there.

But director Laurel Clark has assembled an able cast, and one or two of the jokes hit hard (for locals, a reference to the Villages is snort-inducing).  And the relatively colorless characters are enlivened greatly by Dave McConnell, whose clueless straight-boy-turned-gay-stud is consistently funny. If he’d just get rid of that bear …

Remaining shows: 9:20 p.m. Tuesday 5/25, 9:20 p.m. Wednesday 5/26, 7:10 p.m. Thursday 5/27, 11:05 p.m. Friday 5/28. Red venue.

Fringe review: ‘Creative Mind Experiment,’ Jessica Mariko and Linda Eve Elchak, Orlando

By Elizabeth Maupin

There really is something for everybody (and a few things that mean nothing to most of us) in Creative Mind Experiment, Jessica Mariko and Linda Eve Elchak’s show-that-isn’t-a-show, which is different every time you go. Mariko and Elchak asked a lot of Orlando creative types to listen to a 3-minute piece of music and create a piece based on it. The results are wildly different, certainly creative and occasionally top-notch.

Thursday night Brandon Roberts contributed a bittersweet silent-clown piece; Jeremy Seghers sang his own version of the Agnus Dei and two different dancers, Melissa Cohen and Kassi Abreu, performed two very different dances. Bob Kodzis did a lesson in group dynamics, asking each of us to stand if we agreed with various statements on a video screen. And a couple of others did pieces that were more compelling in the explanation than in the execution.

Best of all, the character that is sure to become this year’s Fringe legend – Evan Miga’s Dog-Powered Robot, which is just what it sounds like and comes with a full set (a cardboard-box city), a singer (Britt Daley) and music composed by David Traver for this 3-minute piece. Miga’s Pomeranian deserves to become famous for its stage debut, which caused near-hysteria the night I saw it. Every dog should have this kind of day.

Remaining performances: 11:15 a.m. Saturday 5/29, 4:20 p.m. Sunday 5/30. Green venue.

(Photo of Dog-Powered Robot courtesy of Rene Photography, Creative Mind Experiment and the Fringe.)

Fringe review: ‘Cyclosa Confusa,’ Andrew Connor, Bellingham, Wash.

By Elizabeth Maupin

What do you do when a very tall olive-green yeti-like creature from the center of the earth falls in love with you?

If you’re the lucky audience member in Cyclosa Confusa, Andrew Connor’s one-man show, you play along for all you’re worth. And it will take all your inner resources to keep up with Connor, one half of The Cody Rivers Show duo, whose solo character demands your attention more than any silent, very tall, olive-green yeti-like creature you’ve ever seen.

Maybe that’s because you’re afraid he’ll pull you, too, onto the stage – although only two people get that privilege, the shyer among you will be happy to know.

But more likely it’s because the endlessly inventive Connor is so relentlessly busy – listening to the music in his victim’s head, posing what seems to be an emotional-intelligence test, constructing an elaborate pulley system for the exchange of tenderness, cutting silhouettes.

Cyclosa Confusa may go on a bit too long, but it’s mesmerizing – or maybe it’s just that you, too, long to be sporting goggles, stilts, an elaborate jumpsuit and long, stringy, olive-green hair.

Remaining shows: 3:20 p.m. Saturday 5/22, 6:20 p.m. Sunday 5/23, 8:30 p.m. Wednesday 5/26, 10:10 p.m. Friday 5/28, noon Saturday 5/29. Yellow venue.

Fringe review: ‘Dancing Nude,’ Tim Mooney, Arlington Heights, Ill.

By Elizabeth Maupin

Maybe Timothy Mooney should be called the Orlando Fringe’s jack of all trades: He’s delivered a sci-fi thriller, sung karaoke and performed Moliêre (twice). Now he has joined the legions of the Fringe’s naked guys with Dancing Nude, an autobiographical look at sex that may tell you way more than you want to know.

Mooney is a likable, bookish-seeming guy who leans toward speaking in verse: His monologues in Dancing Nude are separated by little bits of iambic octameter (although I may not have counted right), and even his conversational prose sounds a bit professorial. But his subject matter definitely is not. It’s his own sex life, beginning at the age of six (when a playmate seemingly seduced him behind the bushes) and stretching onward and upward through relationship after relationship.

The focus is on hydraulics, as Mooney puts it, and that focus may be way too much for you if, like me, you think of other people’s sex lives as other people’s business. But the gist of the show is that, as he talks, he takes off his clothes, from parka and sweater on down. Toward the end, he asks his theatergoers if they want him to continue; at the performance I saw, a few men finally spoke up and said yes.

To Mooney, it seems, his nudity is freeing; to others, maybe, not so much. But Dancing Nude did lead me to develop one key Fringe principle: If people are going to get naked, I’d rather they be people I don’t know.

Remaining shows: 8:50 p.m. Monday 5/24, 10:20 p.m. Wednesday 5/26, 5:45 p.m. Thursday 5/27, 11:15 p.m. Saturday 5/29. Pink venue.

Fringe review: ‘Debbie Does Dallas,’ Warren Acting Company, Orlando

By Elizabeth Maupin

A show called Debbie Does Dallas: The Musical sounds like it ought to be Fringe royalty. After all, this show started out at a Fringe festival (New York’s, in 2001) and went over so well that it went on to an off-Broadway run in 2002. But its sure-fire Fringe-audience-pleasing subject matter – a satirical take on the 1978 porn film, but set to intermittent music – comes off as a lot less sure-fire in Orlando, where a sloppy, strident production makes Debbie a whole lot less of a good-time girl than she might normally be.

Director Joel Warren has some good ideas: He gives Debbie and her cheerleader pals the most exaggerated kind of Valley Girl enunciation, and there’s some clever business early on. (When one of the girls enthuses, she always grabs her breasts.) But that business gets old within five minutes, and show looks and sounds terrible: The lighting is dim, the staging fussy, and the sound so poor that you can’t understand the dialogue. Despite the charms of Melissa Mason’s Debbie, this is a one-note musical – and not much of a musical at that. Here’s a lesson for the cheerleading squad: Vulgar isn’t funnier just because it’s loud.

Remaining shows: 4:20 p.m. Saturday 5/22, 3:25 p.m. Sunday 5/23, 8:10 p.m. Tuesday 5/25, 10:20 p.m. Thursday 5/27, noon Saturday 5/29, 5:20 p.m. Sunday 5/30. Silver venue.

Fringe review: ‘Digressions: Based on Events That May Have Been True,’ Steve Berglund, Mount Pleasant, Mich.

By Dean Johnson

Steve Berglund is, first, a very good actor. And writer.

His folksy-personal monologue comes back around on itself (beginning and ending with the idea that one is better off if one sings every day), and it’s difficult to write that way convincingly.

If I wasn’t fully engaged in a couple of his recounted adventures, I was very interested in his rats-in-a-water-cooler tale, his Muhammad Ali saga, his family-nickname section, the Swedish grandmother stories and the Uncle Raymond interludes. Family subjects are relatable for everyone – we may not have an Uncle Raymond, but we know Uncle Raymonds. Berglund’s uncle, for instance, begins every sentence with “goddammit” – “Goddammit, Stevie, that’s not the right fishing pole,” “Goddammit, that hurts.” Don’t we all have an uncle or an aunt with a similar idiosyncrasy?

Oh, and I have to mention that when he first came out onto his camp-site set, I thought he was well-known Orlando actor Tom Nowicki. He isn’t, of course, but he’s as good an actor as Tom.

Remaining shows: 5:45 p.m. Friday 5/21; 5:15 p.m. Saturday 5/22; 11:45 a.m. Sunday 5/23. Blue venue.

Fringe review: ‘Dirty Stuff,’ Jonny McGovern, New York, NY

By Elizabeth Maupin

There are a whole lot of people onstage in Jonny McGovern’s Dirty Stuff – Lurleen Famous (the last name rhymes with vamoose), the would-be trailer-park superstar; Chocolate Pudd’n, the ‘70s blaxploitation diva; a young Saudi druggie whose parents think he’s a successful fashion designer; a guy who discovers he’s possessed by a gay pimp called the Velvet Hammer.

That McGovern plays all of those characters – and plays them so convincingly that you forget he’s just a gay white guy in a golf shirt – makes Dirty Stuff both a pleasure and a stitch.

The title is misleading: There’s really nothing dirty about Dirty Stuff (I know that will disappoint some of you), although his last character, the guy who’s ruled by the gay pimp, can’t stop thinking about what he calls “dirty gay stuff.”

Instead, McGovern is consumed by his characters – the smooth, heavily accented Saudi who acknowledges that it’s his accent that makes him sexy; the over-the-hill movie queen whose legs bend like elastic. There’s a sweet little moral at the end of this show, but no matter: Even a moral is palatable when you can watch someone’s body be half (only half!) possessed by a gay pimp.

Remaining shows: 2:10 p.m. Saturday 5/22, 12:40 p.m. Sunday 5/23, 5:20 p.m. Wednesday 5/26, 8:10 p.m. Friday 5/28, 12:40 p.m. Saturday 5/29. Pink venue.

Fringe review: ‘Divine Will,’ The Lucky Artist Theater Company, Brooklyn, NY

By Elizabeth Maupin

As I’m writing, the performers in Divine Will are probably already on their way back to New York: The performance I saw last night at the Fringe was their last of only four.

So maybe it’s moot to say that Divine Will shows the theological struggles of some very young theater artists, whose exploration of the conflicts between faith, love, science and the church take a very black-and-white approach to what is, for many people, a more complex issue.

The story is about Ryan, a high-school senior who is being pushed by his Catholic-priest uncle to join the priesthood himself. Ryan is serious about his faith, but he’s also a student of science, and he’s having trouble reconciling the two – along with his attraction to Ivy, an appealing friend.

Divine Will also features three characters who seem to be Ryan’s imaginary friends, who dance between scenes with the big silk flags they use in color-guard shows. The dance numbers – apparently meant to illustrate Ryan’s thoughts and his desire to be a rock star (who knew?) – come off as mystifying, and they get in the way of the story.

Terra Vetter, who wrote this drama, apparently meant for Ryan to struggle between two opposing forces. But she has written the show’s two priests as such reprehensible people that there’s no battle here: If Ryan goes with the church, he’s nuts.

Ryan is a smart guy: “The religion we get is a long way from God sometimes,” he says. But I suspect that many people, religious or not, would argue that this conflict has a lot more gray areas than you see in Divine Will and that the entire Catholic Church, despite what you think of it, might be represented by figures a little more three-dimensional than these.

No remaining performances.

Director David Lee reminds me that Audrey Olson directed the 1995 production of The Dream Express. Thanks, David.

Fringe review: ‘The Dream Express,’ The Per4mAnts, Orlando.

By Elizabeth Maupin

Say you’re driving long distances on back roads and you tune in to those comforting, other-worldly voices of late-night radio. Or say you pull into one of those anonymous back-roads motels, the kind that look stuck in the ‘60s, and you wander into the motel lounge.

That’s where you find the voices of Spin Milton and his lovely ex-wife Marlene, the dream-inducing, mind-expanding intonations that are the heart of Len Jenkin’s The Dream Express. As embodied by Joe Swanberg and Rebecca Fisher, they’ll take you for a ride.

Fisher, Swanberg and director David Lee first presented an earlier version of The Dream Express at the Fringe way back in 1995; that they’re all older and wiser only adds to the delight. Swanberg is a vision in bronze metallic shirt, silvery jeans and boots, his eyes hidden behind shades: You get the feeling his Spin has been on acid since he was 12, but no one could be so cool. Fisher, in proto-motel-lounge leopard-print and fishnets, provides the warmth to Swanberg’s languor, and her voice – one minute inflected with country, the next with the blues – is, as always, sensational.

What they’re singing, of course, makes them either very, very lame or very, very hip: “Let’s Get Physical” leads to “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?”, and Milt has a way of turning every number into “Whiter Shade of Pale.” But so what if it’s hard to pin this couple down: Even as their motel lounge seems to keep changing its name, so do Milt and Marlene hover one step ahead of us on the road to cool. Catch them if you can.

Remaining shows: 11 p.m. Monday 5/24, 5:05 p.m. Thursday 5/27, 8:30 p.m. Friday 5/28, 3:20 p.m. Saturday 5/29. Yellow venue.

Fringe review: ‘The Dumb Show,’ Hawk and Wayne, St. Petersburg, FL

By Elizabeth Maupin

Improv can have good days and it can have bad days, and I suspect it was the latter I saw with Hawk and Wayne’s The Dumb Show, which sank like a big fat stone Thursday night. Maybe I can blame myself: I’m the one who, when the two asked for an audience suggestion of a dumb saying, offered “It is what it is.” But the two comics made nothing of that (admittedly inane) saying, and their energy level was so low throughout that the show dragged on and on.

Hawk and Wayne say they’re doing long-form improv, but the night I was there the first two sketches were only peripherally related and the third not related at all. The first piece, set at a funeral home, started off well enough. But the second turned nasty-creepy, and the third – which turned out to involved sexual humiliation – came off as mean. I’m hoping these guys were just having a really, really long-form bad day.

Remaining performances: 8:05 p.m. Saturday 5/29, 7 p.m. Sunday 5/30. Blue venue.

Fringe review: Fool for a Client, Mark Whitney, San Marcos, CA.

By Elizabeth Maupin

Mark Whitney bills himself as a comedian. But I’m trying to figure out in what universe his show, Fool for a Client, comes across as funny.

Whitney has a raft of reviews raving about Fool for a Client, an 80-minute or so diatribe about how he learned to be a big-time salesman, crossed some ethical lines, went to federal prison and became a jailhouse lawyer who eventually managed to spring himself free. But given his manner onstage – hostile, vulgar and seemingly unpracticed – it’s hard to picture the show that those other reviewers must have seen.

Whitney paces the stage, fusses with his hand-held microphone, moves the microphone stand around and changes in and out of a series of shirts, none of which adds anything to the production. His points – that all of life has to do with selling yourself, and that the government is trying to screw you – may resonate, or they may not. But his manner is so wise-guy and his past so apparently sketchy that you may decide not to believe a word he says. Which doesn’t leave much of a show.

Remaining shows: 5:35 p.m. Sunday 5/23, 6 p.m. Monday 5/24, 10:20 p.m. Tuesday 5/25, 8:10 p.m. Thursday 5/27, 7 p.m. Saturday 5/29. Silver venue.

Fringe review: ‘Fruitcake – Ten Commandments From the Psych Ward,’ Rob Gee, Leicester, UK.

By Elizabeth Maupin

Sometimes the titles of Fringe shows say it all. Rob Gee has a title like that in Fruitcake, his solo show about the residents of psychiatric wards where he was a nurse in England, Scotland and Australia. Certainly many of the folks he dealt with were nutty as fruitcakes – the drinker who thought there were gangs of Asians in his back yard singing derogatory songs about his family, the drug users, the schizophrenics. But the title also gets at Gee’s attitude toward his patients – the humor-filled, even-tempered and compassionate way he seems to have dealt with people who were at the ends of their ropes.

You apparently see everything when you’re a psychiatric nurse, and Gee tells those stories (the most disturbing of which is about a man who cuts off his own hand). But what makes Fruitcake palatable is his sense of humor and also a wisdom that comes from having seen it all. “Normalcy’s a mirage,” he says, and “your instincts don’t lie – unless you’re paranoid.” With his lessons underlined by pronouncements from a God who has the voice of a Jamaican woman, Fruitcake will teach you plenty – but it also will persuade you that Gee must have been a wonderful nurse.

Remaining shows: 8:20 p.m. Sunday 5/23, 5:30 p.m. Monday 5/24, 10 p.m. Thursday 5/27, 2:20 p.m. Saturday 5/29, 1 p.m. Sunday 5/30. Green venue.

Fringe review: ‘Full of Grace,’ Feline Five, Orlando

By Elizabeth Maupin

Not every Fringe performer gets a one-woman drama written just for her. But Kathy Baker Wood is not just any Fringe performer: Last year she won the Fringe’s best-actress award in The Dream Jar, and this year she’s back in Full of Grace, a solo piece she wrote with Dream Jar’s Mik Jacobs. It’s an engaging script, but the best thing about it is that it lets you spend nearly an hour with Wood.

In Full of Grace she’s an elderly Irish woman, fond of her bottle and stuck in her dingy apartment, who comes upon a statuette of the Virgin Mary. She begins talking to the statue, and before you know it she’s telling the story of a girl who got pregnant and whose baby was taken away from her at birth.

That the girl and the woman are one and the same should be no surprise, and neither should the two monologues that follow, each of them delivered by women who are thrown by motherhood. And that the Virgin Mary was once in a similar situation makes Wood and Jacobs’s script a little neat for comfort – not to mention the fact that I’ve never known anybody to talk to a statue for that long.

Yet it’s a pleasure to watch and listen to Wood create her three characters – the stooped-over, cantankerous elderly woman (if she had a name, I missed it); the short-tempered, shortsighted career woman, Chloe, who breezes in midway through; and the track-suited young American woman, Allison, who stumbles into the unfamiliar house at the end.

Wood has a low, earthy voice, and her body seems to change as she shifts from one character to the next. But she seems most at home with Allison, who moves easily in her body and has an open face that lights up the room – as Wood does this play.

Remaining performances: 11:40 p.m. Friday 5/28, 2:15 p.m. Saturday 5/29. Blue venue.

Fringe review: ‘Gimpel the Fool,’ Nephesh Theatre, Tel Aviv, Israel

By Elizabeth Maupin

The Nobel Prize-winning author Isaac Bashevis Singer gave us some great literature. He also gave musical-theater fans the story that led to the Barbra Streisand movie Yentl. And he gave us “Gimpel the Fool,” a short story steeped in Jewish beliefs about the schlemiel, the wise fool who is blessed by God.

Howard Rypp, artistic director of Tel Aviv’s Nephesh Theatre, plays Gimpel the Fool in the Orlando Fringe production, a solo show that tells the story from Gimpel’s point of view. Everybody treats Gimpel badly. He’s persuaded to marry a woman even though he has misgivings. He comes home repeatedly to find other men in his bed.

But Gimpel puts up with it all, and Rypp gets at his patience and his peculiar kind of wisdom. “Better to be a fool all your days than for one hour to be evil,” he says, and “You can’t go through life unscathed.”

Unfortunately, Rypp’s production, which he also adapted and directed, is so quiet-natured as to seem almost motionless: He tells the story, but his manner rarely changes. That, of course, is part of the point, but it makes for an undramatic 50 minutes. You’re left with a steadfast man and the haunting sound of klezmer in the air.

Remaining shows: 5:25 p.m. Tuesday 5/25, 8:25 p.m. Thursday 5/27, 5 p.m. Saturday 5/29, 5 p.m. Sunday 5/30. Yellow venue.

Fringe review: ‘Goblin Party Interactive,’ Ibex Puppetry, Orlando

By Elizabeth Maupin

If you’ve ever seen an interactive Rocky Horror Picture Show, you’ll know a little bit of what to expect with Goblin Party Interactive, Ibex Puppetry’s tribute to Jim Henson’s 1986 film Labyrinth. But you don’t have to have seen Labyrinth to get in on this party: Heather Henson and her collaborators have made it so easy, and so ridiculously fun, to join the fun.

Think a bagful of toy goodies that you’re handed when you walk through the door, along with a glow-stick necklace and a whole armful of foam rocks, to be used to belt certain goblins when they come through the house. An abridged version of Labyrinth is playing on a screen upstage, and goblin-like characters are milling around – each dressed to resemble one of the characters in the movie, with Heather Henson in long white dress and jeans just like the movie’s Jennifer Connelly.

Ibex does puppets, of course, so there are giant kite-like goblin creatures sailing above your head and later a floating chandelier and gauzy draperies on long supple poles.

But beyond the beauty there’s plain silliness – stuffed baby dolls flying while audience members wiggle their finger puppets, a wonderful upside-down monster and balloons filled with glowy things that cascade from on high. I’ve never seen a theaterful of grownups laughing so hard as those Thursday night who were intent on batting their glowy balloons around the room. Simple pleasures, right?

Remaining performances: 11:30 a.m. Saturday 5/29, 5:15 p.m. Sunday 5/30. Orange venue.

Fringe review: ‘The Great American Trailer Park Musical,’ TheaterWorks Florida, Davenport, FL

By Elizabeth Maupin

Clearly there’s an audience for The Great American Trailer Park Musical. The big Saturday-night crowd all around me was ready to party, and most of them laughed heartily all the way through. Which leads to the fact that I was definitely in the minority, but the lowest-common-denominator humor, ear-shattering music and general lack of acting finesse made me want to slit my wrists.

Begin with the fact that the sound for Trailer Park is turned up so loud that I was holding my ears a lot of the time (and whenever one particularly shrieky cast member came forth, I knew to put my fingers in my ears ahead of time). Just about everybody in the seven-member cast has an enormous voice, but they’re miked to high heaven, and it doesn’t help that most of them don’t bother to articulate. The result sounds like mush; only Michelle Burroughs, as the trailer-bound agoraphobic Jeannie, is understandable all of the time.

It also doesn’t help that most of the cast members aren’t especially adept actors, and that director Scott A. Cook hasn’t drawn anything but generic redneck from them. Sam Little is the only performer who gets across any personality, and he’s funny as the fierce, no-good Duke.

Everybody in Florida likes making fun of trailer trash, and GATPM has been a hit elsewhere – although I have to say that the people in this show are pretty easy targets. Too bad TheaterWorks Florida didn’t turn down the volume and concentrate on details like character and speech. You can probably paint a painting with a backhoe, but I’d rather see it done with a brush.

Remaining shows: 6 p.m. Wednesday 5/26, 8:10 p.m. Friday 5/28, 11:20 p.m. Saturday 5/29, 7:30 p.m. Sunday 5/30. Silver venue.

Fringe review: ‘Hell Freezes Over!,’ Mo Laughs Comedy, Orlando

By Elizabeth Maupin

Probably we’d all be better off if the universe were organized along the lines of Jeff Jones’s rules – if God were an elderly Jewish woman in a track suit and Hitler a tiny-mustached incompetent whose gun belt keeps popping off.

That the gun-belt thing is an accident – a recurring accident, I might add – only adds to the pleasures of Hell Freezes Over!, Jones’s sequel to last year’s Welcome to Hell and a comedy with so many laugh lines that, when only half of them hit, that’s plenty.

Jones, a standup comic, himself plays Satan in this show, but despite the one-liners he’s almost (I said almost) straight man to the more accomplished actors in the cast: Elizabeth Murff as Satan’s right-hand woman and God; Kevin Bee as a troubled IRA agent and especially Doug Ba’aser as Hitler and a variety of other roles I shouldn’t reveal here.

No one would ever accuse Ba’aser of being able (or even wanting) to keep a straight face. But the best thing about Hell Freezes Over! is that everyone’s in on the joke.

Remaining shows: 7:30 p.m. Monday 5/24, 11:55 p.m. Tuesday 5/25, 6:50 p.m. Wednesday 5/26, 1:40 p.m. Saturday 5/29, 6:30 p.m. Sunday 5/30. Yellow venue.

Fringe review: ‘Ironhead: Quest for the Ring of the Dark Evil Lord of Evil Darkness,’ Quiet Desperation Productions, Orlando

By Elizabeth Maupin

You can divide the audience for Ironhead right down the middle – those who grew up obsessed with Dungeons & Dragons, and those, like me, who have never willingly role-played in their lives. That doesn’t mean that you may not get a kick out of Ironhead if you’ve never played D&D. But I’m willing to bet there’s a lot you won’t understand.

Writer-actor Marcie Schwalm tells the story of a bunch of D&D fanatics who have gathered to spend the evening with a bong and their favorite game, only to find out that one of their number, Derek (Josh Geoghagan), who’s about to become a father, is going to give the game up. The others protest, and as so often happens they get pulled into a time-space continuum in which they become the characters they so love to play.

Schwalm’s script wavers between off-the-wall funny (I, of course, liked the grammar and usage jokes) and gratuitously vulgar: You’ll find a big audience for that at the Fringe, but it doesn’t belong in this particular show. There’s a land pirate with an invisible boat, a swell baby unicorn, the Swamp of Mild Unpleasantness and lots of references to Harry Potter. And there are fierce performances by the tall, intense Geoghagan as Ironhead (cue the sound of a clanging sword); the small, fiery Sarah Lockard as a dwarf maiden in a silver breastplate and a beard; and Chris Prueitt as a couple of dozen nemeses. D&D should be so lucky.

Remaining performances: 10:45 p.m. Thursday 5/27, 6:25 p.m. Saturday 5/29, 9 p.m. Sunday 5/30. Pink venue.

Fringe review: ‘Is This Seat Taken?’, Jester Theater Company, Oakland, FL

By Elizabeth Maupin

Anyone who does improv, or who sees a lot of improv, knows that long-form improv – one improvised story that can last up to an hour or more – is a bear. Lots can go wrong, and does, but you’re stuck with that story, and sometimes you just have to torture it to death until your time runs out.

All of which goes to show that David Charles and Jay Hopkins must be improv masters, at least if you go by Tuesday night’s performance of Is This Seat Taken? Everything went right in their nearly hour-long comic one-act about two strangers in an empty movie theater waiting for Casablanca to begin. One guy, Hopkins, turned out to be escaping from a house where his wife was entertaining a lover; the other, Charles, was a schlemiel who met a woman on the internet and planned to propose.

That led to a lost engagement ring, some Claude Rains references and a lot of talk about movie classics, none of which Charles’s character had ever seen. And it led to a lot of sidling up and down invisible rows of invisible seats as the would-be suitor grew more and more frantic and the unhappy husband more and more depressed.

The story is different every night, of course, and sometimes it’s going to flop. But the two improvisers are good together: They know each other’s rhythms – Charles frenetic, Hopkins comfortable and calm – and they know when to give each other room to fly. There are no promises in improv, so all I can say is this: These guys know what they’re doing. You can’t ask for more than that.

Remaining performances: 11 p.m. Thursday 5/27, 6:55 p.m. Friday 5/28, 9:20 p.m. Saturday 5/29. Brown venue.

Fringe review: ‘Janine Klein: Gay Bar Star,’ John Ryan and His Divas, Orlando

By Elizabeth Maupin

Most gay icons are larger than life, and Janine Klein fits that bill.  Not that she’s physically bigger than the rest of us, but her gay-bar-star persona fills up the room. And that voice … well, let’s just say that, when she’s singing, Klein has no need of a mike.

That she has one in Janine Klein: Gay Bar Star means that sometimes Klein can sound a little over the top. But that’s not such a bad thing when you’re as talented as she is – and when you can make fun of yourself as readily as she.

Klein’s persona in Gay Bar Star (written by John Ryan, who provides eye candy onstage while Steve MacKinnon plays the keyboard) is the blowsy, slightly over-the-hill, good-time girl, who is happy to lord over her legions of gay followers while she’s desperate for a straight man to call her own. (May I add that no one is over the hill who was a teenager when I met her?)

She weaves that character through some clever rewrites of musical-theater standards (“Turn Back, Gay Man, Forswear Thy Homo Ways”), and her version of “Matchmaker” from Fiddler on the Roof deserves to go down in musical-theater history.

But she also sings some of her numbers relatively straight, so to speak, and that’s a gorgeous bonus. When Klein says, “Oh, you’re all so lucky I’m here,” she’s right.

Remaining shows: 10:50 p.m. Saturday 5/22, 4:20 p.m. Sunday 5/23, 5:35 p.m. Tuesday 5/25, 9:05 p.m. Thursday 5/27, 9:35 p.m. Saturday 5/29, 1:40 p.m. Sunday 5/30. Pink venue.

Fringe review: ‘Julie Bunny Must Die!,’ Mental Multitrack, Ozark, Mo.

By Elizabeth Maupin

There’s something refreshing about Julie Bunny Must Die! – not because one of the characters is a large, good-natured rabbit in overalls but because this musical about a vocationally challenged cartoonist isn’t like anything else at the Fringe. Writer/composer Ned Wilkinson has put together a charming little show, which is all the more charming because it doesn’t try to be anything it’s not.

Bert Rodriguez plays Adam, a graphic designer for an ad agency by day and a comic-book artist by night, who has been drawing the adventures of international spy Julie Bunny since he was a tyke. Julie (Laura Hodos) is also his highly observant imaginary friend, who gives him pretty good career advice and generally keeps him from going astray. Adam’s under stress: His girlfriend (Stefanie Clouse) is unhappy, one of his obsessive fans (Ryan Connolly) is, well, obsessive and his boss (Michael Colavolpe) keeps piling on the work, which makes even Adam start thinking that Julie Bunny must disappear from the scene.

Wilkinson’s music is clever and catchy, if some of the book feels underwritten: One of the comic-book characters, a spy chief, seems to exist only to give Connolly somebody else to play; the whole ad-agency thing is a little murky and I never did figure out why Julie’s nemesis is a chef.

But director Christopher Leavy makes the piece zip right along, and the cast is mostly delightful – especially Colavolpe, who gets to play two separate bad guys, and Hodos, whose relentlessly perky demeanor fits Julie like a glove. Hodos is adorable, and her pipes aren’t bad either: This is one instance where the mikes can be left on the shelf.

As for Julie Bunny herself – well, I think we can rest assured that she lives, big-time.

Remaining performances: 9:50 p.m. Friday 5/28, 4:45 p.m. Saturday 5/29, 4:40 p.m. Sunday 5/30. Pink venue.

Fringe review: Lucky Nine, Big Sandwich/TJ Dawe, Vancouver, BC, Canada

By Elizabeth Maupin

Watching TJ Dawe’s solo Fringe shows year after year is like taking a journey into TJ’s mind. It’s not a journey for everyone, but if you’re drawn to the cerebral and captivated by the ways people grow and change, Lucky Nine is the show for you.

Dawe is an Orlando Fringe mainstay and one of the best examples of what makes the Fringe so unlike any other festival: He creates one-man shows – sometimes wild and picaresque, sometimes quiet, always structured to a T – that without fail wind up examining the way he thinks. He took last year off from the Fringe circuit, and Lucky Nine is the result, a look at a personality-typing system that has gripped him, the works of a Vancouver doctor named Gabor Maté and the HBO TV series The Wire – all of which have changed the way he looks at the world.

This sounds esoteric, and it is, more so than Dawe’s previous shows. But it’s also fascinating to watch a mind at work – the mind of a bright, funny man who sees himself as a loner and a “wild vagabond artist,” who doesn’t gravitate towards the social movements of strangers (don’t get him started on the Vancouver Olympics) and who comes to the realization that some of that can change.  This is a performer who’s still drily hilarious (pity the poor man who let out a loud snore in the row in front of me), but also one who’s searching for more. Thank the Fringe we get to go along for the ride.

Remaining shows: 11:20 a.m. Sunday 5/23, 8:35 p.m. Tuesday 5/25, 11:50 p.m. Wednesday 5/26, 6:50 p.m. Friday 5/28, 10:50 p.m. Saturday 5/29. Yellow venue.

Fringe review: ‘Lyssa,’ Alexander/Alexander Productions, Orlando

By Elizabeth Maupin

All Fringe artists have to start out somewhere, and if they’re lucky they start out with something like Lyssa, an ambitious project for a bunch of kids who are either fresh out of high school or still in it. This high-drama musical about a group of teenagers marooned on an island doesn’t have the polish that age and experience may bring. But as an hour-long musical it’s an impressive undertaking, and I suspect it’s just one of many to come.

The title refers to a Greek deity, the spirit of madness, rage and frenzy (and also of rabies, but we won’t go into that here). For reasons I couldn’t figure out, five kids are shipwrecked on an island, and the bust of Lyssa seems to haunt some of them. But most of the time they spend being haunted by, or rather coming on to, each other – one of the four boys and the sole girl, three of the boys to each other. Nobody seems to communicate with anybody else (or to work on food or shelter); they just try to push each other into sex, and when that doesn’t work they move on to more desperate measures.

Alexander Sage Oyen’s minor-key songs have some interesting rhythms, although they don’t show a lot of variety, and Alexander Thomas Ferguson’s sardonic lyrics and book leave a whole lot to the imagination. I was mystified by why the girl identifies with Lyssa or why the boys blame her for all their ills (although that’s consistent with the history of the world, I guess).

Still, there are far-reaching ideas here and intense commitment from the actors (Ferguson, Eliza Solomon, Travus Leroux, Sage Starkey and Tommy Prast, plus an unidentified narrator). Lyssa may be most compelling to the parents and friends of the kids who created it. But we all should be curious about what’s next.

Remaining performances: 12:40 p.m. Saturday 5/29, 2:40 p.m. Sunday 5/30. Green venue.

Fringe review: ‘Oddlie,’ freeFall Theatre and Bag of Beans Productions, Tampa Bay, FL

By Elizabeth Maupin

Oddlie got her name because she “looked oddly,” and she lives in a garbage heap – “the garbage heap where people in this city of garbage heaps dumped their trash.” Her sole companion is a discarded baby doll, and she yearns for connection: She needs to be seen and heard.

But Oddlie has a gift for poetry, if she can only learn how to use it, and the Fringe show that bears her name has a gift as well. Poet/singer/actor Aleshea Harris conveys worlds in the theater piece called Oddlie, and, with musicians Nicholas J. White and James Martin Roberts and director Eric Davis, she has created a haunting play for both eye and ear.

This show may be set in a trash heap, but it’s a strangely beautiful one. A single straight-backed chair hangs at an angle above the pile of stuff others have thrown away; another character’s wheelchair seems to have been created as a 3-D collage. Harris looks like a ballerina in her gown of this and that.

Even more, it’s gorgeous to hear. White and Roberts add a haunting backdrop of guitar, mandolin, horn and percussion (most of it on an orange plastic Home Depot bucket). And Harris’s free verse cuts to the essence of things. “Poetry always starts with feeling – feeling sharp, clear, thin as razor cuts on skin,” she says, and “When the pencil meets the page, what’s hiding underneath comes out and struts.”

Harris herself does not strut; her character’s is a more diffident beauty, an evanescent one, although she learns to stand tall and proud like her teacher, an old woman who says she comes from a planet “where poets live like queens.”

It’s the language that struts in Oddlie – a language so rich and proud that it demands to be savored. Oddlie learns to find her voice; her audiences must learn to hear it.

Remaining performances: 5 p.m. Friday 5/28, 4 p.m. Saturday 5/29. Green venue.

Fringe review: ‘Plā,’ Jeff Wirth, Orlando

By Elizabeth Maupin

Alas for those of us who shrink from audience participation, who see it coming and shrivel so deeply into our seats (and into ourselves) that we can’t enjoy the rest of the show.

Jeff Wirth has figured us out. And he’s figured that if you make the people in the audience feel safe and comfortable, we’re more likely to join in voluntarily – and we’re much more likely to have a good time.

In Plā (pronounce it play), Wirth and collaborator/tech wiz John Valines have devised a brilliant hour of improv, one in which Wirth gently invites theatergoers to play along and assures those who don’t that we won’t be bothered. He also knows the pitfalls of inviting people onstage who try to take over the show (and we’ve all seen that). So he makes clear his definition of plā: “To engage in fiction as though it were real without trying to be funny” (italics mine, and I will be eternally grateful).

As if to prove him right, Tuesday night’s plā consisted of one gem after another: I feel sure the audience members weren’t plants, but boy, were they good. One little playlet (or plālet) was set at a bus station, at which Wirth professed to be leaving town and an audience member, playing Wirth’s brother, gave as good as he got: When Wirth said he always wanted to be a poet, the other man asked, “What’s stopping you?”

In another, at a dance, a woman from the audience challenged him to take off his shades (“Is there something wrong with your eyes?” she asked), and the two found a way to end the scene as sweetly as it needed to end.

There are scenes that involve technology, hilariously, and scenes in which the audience needs to intuit what it’s supposed to do. Best of all are the times in which those of us who aren’t participating feel compelled to add our two cents’ worth. When Wirth’s dance party lacked music, folks in the audience started a percussion beat with their feet, and before long it sounded a little like the cast of Stomp was in the house. A fine reward for a fascinating show.

Remaining performances: 5:15 p.m. Friday 5/28, 12:35 p.m. Saturday 5/29, 1:35 p.m. Sunday 5/30. Blue venue.

Fringe review: ‘Reckless Daughters,’ Destination Ink Productions, Toronto, Canada

By Elizabeth Maupin

As a child of the ‘60s, it’s hard to watch much younger women play my heroines from way back when. The women of Reckless Daughters don’t especially look or sound like the women they’re playing – singer/songwriters Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon and Carole King. And they get so much of it wrong.

Not that the people involved with Reckless Daughters don’t know a fair amount about the personal lives of Mitchell, King and Simon. But calling them “the most iconic artists of the feminist movement” is just plain ridiculous. (Even if you were only talking about musical artists, whatever happened to Joan Baez?) Reducing their interactions to a three-way struggle over James Taylor is insulting. And lumping the three very different women together in the first place is just weird.

Granted, a 2008 bestseller called Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon – and the Journey of a Generation did the same thing, and I assume that Brianna Brown, Erin Fleck and Laura Anne Harris, who developed and perform this show, must have read that book.

But the three musicians really had very little in common, and these three actors shed no new light on the subject. Instead, they sing a little, they play guitar badly and – as actresses playing the musicians in a show-within-a-show – they bicker over their private lives and over who will sing what. That part of Reckless Daughters is off-putting, and reducing these so-called feminist icons to what celebrities they slept with is even more so. If this is feminism in the 21st-century, heaven help us all.

Remaining performances: 7:25 p.m. Wednesday 5/26, 8:30 p.m. Thursday 5/27, 5:@5 p.m. Saturday 5/29, 3:15 p.m. Sunday 5/30. Blue venue.

Fringe review: ‘Reefer Madness!!! The Play!!!,’ Economic Stimulus Productions, St. Petersburg, FL

By Elizabeth Maupin

There’s an addiction going around the Fringe – an addiction to the cornball comedy that is Reefer Madness, a show that turned up in musical form a couple of years ago and has returned in the style of melodramatic ‘50s TV drama. Produced by a group from St. Petersburg, this version looks deliberately low-budget, with handmade posters (one of them misspelled), purposely awful wigs and a smoke machine that doesn’t work. (I suspect, in the case of the smoke machine, that the malfunction isn’t deliberate.)

The homemade lighting gets distracting, and I’m not sure why T. Scott Wooten, as the narrator, carries around his script. But the exaggerated acting style is sure and funny, and the adaptation is a stitch, with phrases like “ganja goons,” “weedface” and other ridiculous slang. “He’s not too jazzed about that chick getting popped with my heater,” someone says. Whatever.

Reefer Madness sputters out well before it ends, but there’s plenty of comedy here – in the very, very large imaginary joint one of the drug fiends rolls, in the language and especially in the intense, frenetic performance of Michael Titone as the fiends’ main victim. (Katie Castonguay and Jan Ray round out the cast.) This is good fun – and if you can nab one of Reefer Madness’s brownies, do it. You won’t be sorry.

Remaining shows: 10:50 p.m. Wednesday 5/26, 10:05 p.m. Friday 5/28, 11 p.m. Saturday 5/29, 4:20 p.m. Sunday 5/30. Brown venue.

Fringe review: ‘Reincarnation Soup,’ Viet Nguyen, Orlando

By Elizabeth Maupin

Myth and culture that are strange to most of us make up the meat of Reincarnation Soup, Viet Nguyen’s gorgeous homage to his ancestral Vietnam. In this solo show, an entire stage full of people wait in a sort of purgatory between birth and death – or reincarnation – and each tells of his or her life, of disappointments and of hopes.

Of course Nguyen plays every character here – the young army recruit, the suicidal clown, the child in a game of shoot-‘em-up, the smarmy reality-TV host, the prisoner who has just moved from settlement camp to a different form of incarceration. Each character is affecting in his or her way, but perhaps the most moving is the woman who tried to escape on a boat but lost her husband in the process. Musical-theater fans might recognize in one character an older version of Kim in Miss Saigon, but even this woman with a history, so to speak, fits seamlessly into the queue of troubled souls.

Nguyen (an Orlando actor who has performed at Mad Cow Theatre and Seminole State College and in the 2009 Fringe’s wonderful Elegies) does not change his costume or his manner to shift from man to woman, but each character is distinct. You’re left with a feeling of sorrow but also one of riches – of a people and a country that are troubled but also strong and proud. Reincarnation Soup is a small show that will stay with you. It deserves to be seen – and celebrated.

Remaining performances: 11 p.m. Wednesday 5/26, 5:30 p.m. Thursday 5/27, 9:25 p.m. Friday 5/28. Red venue.

Fringe review: ‘The Shakespeare Show: or, How an Illiterate Son of a Glover Became the Greatest Playwright in the World,’ ribbitREpublic, Vancouver, B.C.

By Elizabeth Maupin

Fans of the works of Mr. William Shakespeare may already know more than they want to about the Oxford theory – the idea, mostly dismissed, that the 17th Earl of Oxford, Edward De Vere, wrote Shakespeare’s plays, not Shakespeare. That’s the basis for The Shakespeare Show, which takes the idea that Shakespeare was an unschooled rube and runs with it. I’m not sure anyone will be convinced, but comedy is the goal, not scholarship, and there’s enough comedy to carry you along.

Ryan Gladstone and Tara Travis play all the characters in the show, which Gladstone wrote mostly in verse: That verse is clever, and the best thing about The Shakespeare Show is the way the two actors speak it so conversationally that the wit in the rhymes catches you by surprise. What works less well is that their version of Shakespeare himself, an illiterate whose job it is to hold patrons’ horses at the Globe, often sounds as wise as one of the real Shakespeare’s fools – which is to say very wise indeed.

Hamlet, Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet all find their way into The Shakespeare Show; it’s too bad, then, that the comedy goes on a good 20 minutes too long because the tail end of it (a TV talk show, an awards ceremony) is considerably funnier than what has come before.

Still, the play does leave you with one unerring bit of wisdom: A dandelion by any other name would proliferate as swiftly. Or not.

Remaining shows: 5:30 p.m. Monday 5/24, 9:35 p.m. Wednesday 5/26, 8:20 p.m. Friday 5/28, 9 p.m. Saturday 5/29. Orange venue.

Fringe review: ‘Shoshinz Presents A Day in the Life of Miss Hiccup,’ Shoshinz, Tokyo, Japan

By Elizabeth Maupin

If you can imagine an Asian Carmen Miranda, the image you come up with will be a dead ringer for the center character in A Day in the Life of Miss Hiccup – a Carmen Miranda with flower-bedecked dress, elegant red satin gloves and a bonnet bouquet, but a Carmen Miranda in whiteface who never says a word. Shoshinz is said to be Japanese for “shy, timid people,” but this solo performer, who calls herself Yanomi Shoshinz, isn’t so much shy as silent, except for a tiny case of the hiccups.

As you watch, she goes about the business of her day – brushing her teeth, breaking eggs for her breakfast, singing opera on the john. But unexpected things keep happening: Her breakfast turns into something else entirely, and one of her feet, in a squeaky slipper, develops a mind of its own.

Yanomi makes wonderful use of sound effects, and there’s both comedy and beauty in the very small things this woman does as her day goes on. The through line in Miss Hiccup doesn’t add up to much, and the hourlong show may feel a bit lengthy. But Shoshinz proves that tiny can be beautiful.

Remaining shows: 6:55 p.m. Tuesday 5/25, 11:35 p.m. Thursday 5/27, 7:30 p.m. Saturday 5/29, 1:40 p.m. Sunday 5/30. Yellow venue.

Fringe review: ’6 Guitars,’ Chase Padgett Productions, Orlando

By Dean Johnson

Six guitar stylists, one lone performer: Chase Padgett makes you believe you’re really seeing six different men – 87-year-old bluesman Tyrone; metal rocker Michael, 20; Mexican classical guitarist Ortega, 37; Kentucky country boy Rupert, 27; too-cool jazzman Wesley, 25; and sappy folkie Peter, no age given.

Tyrone, feeling the blues over women, throws out wise licks while Wesley is laying down pretentious vibes and Peter is a step away from forcing us to sing along to “Kumbaya.”

Each introduces himself and his guitar style, leading up to a coda featuring all six interpreting John Lennon’s “Imagine.”

The show is poignant during a few interludes, but mostly it’s hilarious, which probably figures since Padgett, 27, is an improv performer.

At Sunday’s show, with several of his Fringe peers in the audience (including master monologist TJ Dawe), Padgett seemed overwhelmed with the sell-out house and the standing ovation, both deserved.

If you can still get a ticket, don’t miss 6 Guitars.

Remaining shows: 11:45 p.m. Monday 5/24; 6 p.m. Thursday 5/27; 7:40 p.m. Saturday 5/29. Brown venue.

Fringe review: ‘The Soirée,’ Celebration Barn Theater, South Paris, Maine

By Elizabeth Maupin

Welcome to an elegant evening chez Elizabeth, where French music is playing, open bottles of wine are at hand and a single red rose sits in a glass full of gin.

Well, not quite full, because your hostess, the divine Elizabeth, takes a swig of the gin, spills the cheese on the floor, sweeps it up and deposits it back on the tray.

No matter: She’s such a charming hostess, and if you’re not up for a song she and a comical French counterpart will enlist you in an art show or demonstrate how to read a novel and twirl a hula hoop at the same time.

A solo show performed by Amanda Huotari (and directed by vaudeville clown Avner Eisenberg, known as Broadway’s Avner the Eccentric and the title character in The Jewel of the Nile), The Soirée is a mild-mannered riot – ever so polite at the same time that it’s completely off the wall.

Part of a smallish audience Monday night, I found myself transformed into a Frenchwoman (must have been my French-Huguenot blood) and standing onstage with balloons strapped to my ankles. Another reviewer in the audience was enlisted to draw a portrait of our hostess. And a third audience member, a woman, was drafted as a melodramatic villain, complete with beard.

Huotari is a stitch behind her gracious manner, and she’s also physically adept: Our audience oohed and aahed at her prowess with a tray, until she dropped the thing on the floor. This is one of those below-the-radar Fringe shows that deserves not to be overlooked. Go see it: You might get a little dessert.

Remaining shows: 10:35 p.m. Wednesday 5/26, 5:10 p.m. Thursday 5/27, 9:45 p.m. Saturday 5/29. Blue venue.

Fringe review: ‘… Some Other Day,’ Schave & Reilly, Austin, Texas

By Elizabeth Maupin

It may be Groundhog Day in the world of Ben Schave and Caitlin Reilly, where two silent clowns relive over and over what turns out to be not exactly the same day but dreamlike variations of it.  Again and again the two try to pull themselves up from the ground; again and again they and their umbrellas are pulled across the stage by the wind; again and again they exchange single lilies, and, like every besotted couple, they lead a tandem life.

It’s a life as elegant as the most beautiful silent movie – each of them dressed in permutations of black and white, their stripes and polka-dots contrasting with their black-and-white umbrellas. And the two move together so gracefully, even as they perform headstands, somersaults and all manner of physical stunts, that they seem to have been created as one.

There’s a thread of death running through … Some Other Day, and I’m not sure I can tell you what it’s all about. But I was happy just watching these two gifted clowns – Shave debonair in his Harold Lloyd glasses, Reilly scrappy and intrepid. With physical comedy this eloquent, who needs words?

Remaining shows: 11 a.m. Saturday 5/22, 6:20 p.m. Sunday 5/23, 7:15 p.m. Tuesday 5/25, 5:05 p.m. Friday 5/28, 8 p.m. Saturday 5/29, 3:20 p.m. Sunday 5/30. Pink venue.

Fringe review: ‘Third Time Lucky,’ Wog Productions, Toronto, Ontario

By Elizabeth Maupin

You want to like Paul Hutcheson’s show; you really, really do. He’s cute, he’s expressive, and he has a funny way of repeating things for emphasis, louder and louder, as if his listeners are either imbeciles or dogs.

“We’re gonna read, and you’re gonna like it,” he says to a classroom full of teenage miscreants, and by the time he’s said it five or six times, you believe him.

But Hutcheson is missing his material in Third Time Lucky, the hour-long solo act that he apparently performed for the very first time Thursday night. The show sees things in threes, sort of: There’s a trio of bad jobs, a trio of statements about porn, a trio of sex-related stories. (The audience is supposed to pick one, but he winds up telling all three of them; not a one is especially entertaining.)

Hutcheson seems to think he has led a charmed life, and maybe he has – although whether you agree probably depends on how eager you would be to participate in a gay orgy, which is his proof of the pudding here. I tend to think his luck goes like this: You still like him, even though he has no show.

Remaining shows: 3:50 p.m. Saturday 5/22, 2:20 p.m. Sunday 5/23, 10:30 p.m. Monday 5/24, 8:40 p.m. Wednesday 5/26, 11 a.m. Saturday 5/29, 7 p.m. Sunday 5/30. Pink venue.

Fringe review: ‘Tod Kimbro: Robots Stole My Piano,’ Tod Kimbro, Orlando

By Elizabeth Maupin

Seems like Tod Kimbro can do anything, at least where music is involved. He can sound amazingly like Elton John, then turn around and sound astonishingly like Billy Joel (and I know they’re not the same person because one is bald and the other has a wig). Then he’ll play something by the Beatles, then something by somebody I’ve only barely heard of, then something from one of his own shows – and all of it sounds pretty damn swell.

And that’s how it goes with Robots Stole My Piano, a Fringe show with no underlying theme but something to please everybody (at least everybody who goes to a show called Robots Stole My Piano). Some of us (you can guess our ages) were thrilled to hear a lovely version of the Beatles’ “Across the Universe” and Joel’s “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me.” Others – a gaggle of young women in the front row, whom I think of fondly as the Tod Kimbro Fan Club – were ecstatic over songs from Kimbro’s shows Loud and Illustrious Wasteland. I myself liked the song for his 1998 Fringe play Suckers, in which he sings the parts of both Nikki and Smegma but holds up a sort-of-goth photo-mask every time Smegma pipes up.

Plenty of technology is at hand in the current show, and I suppose that explains the title: Kimbro actually plays “Across the Universe” on his iPhone, which is hooked up to his electronic keyboard, and only when a piece of equipment fails briefly at the end of the first song do you long for a Steinway in the neighborhood. Mostly, though, you’re happy to hear a guy who can do so much so well – and if that includes songs by somebody you’ve only barely heard of, well, you’re having a growth experience.

Remaining performances: 5:20 p.m. Saturday 5/29, 4 p.m. Sunday 5/30. Red venue.

Fringe review: T-O-T-A-L-L-Y!, T-O-T-A-L-L-Y! Kimleigh Productions, Los Angeles, Calif.

By Elizabeth Maupin

Picture the teenage girl who, like, totally says “like, totally” all the time. Then picture her so irrepressible that you, like, totally like her – and that’s Kimleigh Smith, the ball of fire who tells her own compelling story in T-O-T-A-L-L-Y!, a narrative that shifts from light to dark in the blink of an eye but never allows the ‘V’ word – victim – to cross your mind.

Kimleigh, after all, thinks of herself as a superhero. She’s a 17-year-old cheerleader who has just seen the most amazing championship football game ever, and only a strange paralysis that begins to afflict her “from my girl parts down” persuades her that anything happened to her that totally amazing night.

Smith, who has acted in some major regional theaters and done a fair amount of TV, has put a fair amount of time between her present-day self and what happened to her when she was 17. (Her show is aimed at audiences 17 and older.) But the gripping story continues, and Smith seems to have come to terms with it. With a personality this strong and this appealing, you have to figure this woman can conquer anything she wants.

Remaining shows: 8:45 p.m. Sunday 5/23, 5:15 p.m. Monday 5/24, 5:30 p.m. Tuesday 5/25, 11:45 p.m. Friday 5/28, 11 a.m. Sunday 5/30. Brown venue.

Fringe review: ‘Trojan Women,’ Eyewitness Theatre Company, Manchester, England.

By Elizabeth Maupin

Not everybody thinks the Fringe means time for frivolity. Peter McGarry’s Eyewitness Theatre has brought the Fringe plenty of meaty theater in years past (Lysistrata, Medea), and some of those and more modern offerings (Home to Roost, Time to Go Walking, Our Daily Bread) have made the case to laugh-happy Fringe audiences that drama and comedy can mix.

But Eyewitness seems to have been off its game with the opening-night performance of Trojan Women, McGarry’s adaptation of the Euripides classic, which all too rarely wrenches the gut the way it should.

This is a stripped-down telling: The sole characters are Cassandra, the ill-fated seer who is fated to become the mistress of the old, repulsive Agamemnon; Andromache, the unforgiving widow of Cassandra’s brother Hector; and Helen, the mesmerizing native of Sparta whose affair with the Trojan Paris brought about the Trojan War. Andromache despises Helen; the virginal, half-mad Cassandra frets about her future; and Helen stands stoic in the face of doom.

McGarry has combined modern and old-fashioned language to create a hybrid that’s easy to understand. But his version leaves out a lot of the old story’s horror, and the focus on Cassandra’s sexual future somehow makes light of it. The large, bare Margeson Theater stage does the production no favors. And the cast doesn’t seem consistently comfortable: Carly Tarett makes a regal, self-aware Helen, but Suzanne Roche is not much more than disapproving as Andromache and Gemma Flannery all too frenetic as Cassandra. There’s beautiful writing here, but it strikes only the mind, not the heart.

Remaining shows: 10:20 p.m. Saturday 5/22, 12:55 p.m. Sunday 5/23, 11 p.m. Monday 5/24, 6 p.m. Wednesday 5/26, 1:40 p.m. Saturday 5/29, 1:40 p.m. Sunday 5/30. Orange venue.

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