The second New Orleans Fringe Festival was a little rough around the edges, but at its heart, it was an entertaining mix of alternative theater and experimentation. It turned a cluster of Marigny neighborhood spaces into an exciting hub of activity over a long weekend (Nov. 11-15). While some venues were more far flung, it was worth mingling at other festival events (parades, happy hours) and the tent/box office to compare notes and collect recommendations on the 45 shows staged. Among the performances I saw, some of the multimedia and/or genre mashups produced the most entertaining results.
New Yorkers Jennifer Sargent and Aimee German staged a rambunctious clown cabaret called Canarsie Suite (pictured), named for a section of Brooklyn. Their physical comedy and off-kilter singing and dancing shook the tiny stage at the Skull Club as they became the scrappy LeRoy sisters, not the best vaudevillian duo to tour the country. They lampooned melodramas and sideshow acts and made sure no costume wasn't coming undone, such as a frilly dress falling out of the back of a gorilla suit.
New Orleans' Black Forest Fancies staged an updated version of The Pomology of Sweetness and Light at the deconsecrated Trinity Church on St. Ferdinand Street. The core story about Johnny Appleseed and a young girl, who he took as a ward but seems to have intended to marry when she came of age, offered an interesting account of the folk hero's ascetic mission to plant orchards on the American frontier. The story wandered as the two parted, leaving too many questions unresolved, but the show's unique puppet work, aerial acrobatics, props and live music combined to make it a very engaging performance.
In what was billed as the rock cabaret Danger Angels, Raymond "Moose" Jackson excelled with his Charles Bukowski-esque poetry of lust for both life and death among the down, out and addicted. A couple of punk rock songs were solid, but it was the arrival of a brass band on the tiny stage at Sidearm Gallery that gave the show a surprising and surprisingly uplifting ending.
Jonathan Freilich's Bang the Law was an intriguing operatic experiment. The score was well done, but not all the elements came together smoothly in spite of the piece's embrace of Carnivalesque social satire. New Orleans' society became a randy playground for interloping lawyers and domestic workers in the story. The use of body humor was at times funny, but some of the humorous tableaux were stale. Photo montages at neck-straining heights tended to serve up racy non sequiturs, overburdening the grasp at grotesque caricature.
Some shows needed to sort out the good from the bad. Some Editing and Some Theme Music started off very well as a real-time treatise on diaries, blogging and vlogging. Seated at laptop computers that streamed their images onto a backdrop, a trio of actors offered excerpts from historical diaries and clever, intentionally banal riffs on the feat of lifting a single eyelid and insomnia. Unfortunately, halfway through the piece, it switched to a rambling voiceover by the writer/director commenting on the first half while the trio redid it in mime. It sucked every ounce of life and humor out of the show and punished the audience for hoping it wouldn't go on for 25 minutes, which it did.
The Tally-Ho Daredevils' Be My Bunny was billed as musical comedy, but its bunny-costumed nonsensical silliness was best suited for very young children. That said, some very young children in attendance greatly enjoyed the jumble of skits, as did some adults.
Clearly, there was something for every curious mind at the Fringe. There were more risks than guarantees, but that's the method to Fringe's madness. — Will Coviello