With 33 shows presented at nine venues over five days (Nov. 15-19), InFringe Fest revived the format that worked well for the now defunct New Orleans Fringe Festival (which became the also defunct Faux/Real Festival of the Arts in 2015). There were dramas, comedies, musicals, improvised shows, burlesque and sideshow acts, puppetry and performance art. Here are some of the highlights and disappointments from the inaugural InFringe.
The Mudlark Public Theatre was home to many Fringe shows, and it hosted a couple of puppet shows during InFringe. The resident Mudlark Puppeteers'
Kate Culhane and the Dead Middle Man was an entertaining folk tale about a young woman in post-Great Famine Ireland who undertakes an unpleasant task to win a marriage proposal. She must retrieve a walking stick from atop a grave, but in the cemetery, a lechrerous and greedy undead creature compels her to perform another gruesome task. Presented with beautifully rendered shadow puppets, marionettes and large hand-held puppets, the storytelling was creative, creepy and funny, though it could have benefited from live instead of recorded narration.
Also at Mudlark, Abandoned Ships presented a trio of short works. One impressive piece featured a largely invisible character animated by three puppeteers separately controlling its only body parts: hands, feet and an eyes-and-nose mask.
In New York-based Sexy Dirt Productions' solo show Whales & Souls at Mag's 940, Chris Roe (pictured) presented a vivid horror-tinged folk tale about a small town set upon by developers. Ironically, a stubborn clockmaker ushers in destruction while refusing to listen to his wife, son, a healer he dubs a witch, and a mythical creature. Roe masterfully staged conversations and arguments between characters, rapidly switching between the voices and mannerisms of six characters.
Moose Jackson's Liberty is Presumed to be Sunk at Happyland Theater was an improvisational music and spoken-word show. I caught a performance with James Singleton (bass), Martin Krusche (sax), Luke Brechtelsbauer (harp), Doug Garrison (percussion), Amzie Adams (guitar) and Joe Badon. The show had a noirish look with Jackson sitting at a wooden desk with a typewriter and a whirring fan, but the aura was contemporary beatnik, with spoken-word riffs (over gentle sax and thick bass notes) about what freedom really means — broadcast like a beacon to like-minded souls. The music and poetic interplay was smooth and the production felt fresh.
Valiant Theatre and Lounge hosted Is She Dead Yet? from Seattle producers. Dubbed a "white comedy," it offered biting satire about white privilege in an absurd drama in which the last black person in the U.S. is about to die — and she's married to the nephew of the president. While the convention of using reporters to advance the narrative and comment on its content was effective and often funny, a vacuous character at the core of the drama (the spouse of the dying black woman) repeatedly dragged the narrative to a crawl. Having a black character who never gets to speak a line conceivably could make a point, but this drama overburdened the idea.
Also at Valiant was Calisaya Blues, Louis Maistros' adaptation of his well-received novel The Sound of Building Coffins. Hattie (Alexis McQuarter), a Storyville prostitute, turns to Dr. Jack (Donald Lewis) for an abortion and is consoled by friends. Each of the piece's four actors had their moments, but the structure of the piece was constraining, with too much delivered in lengthy monologues. In one long scene, two actors mostly sat in silence while Jack talked, unfortunately mostly to himself. The show lacked meaningful action and direction.