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Skimming a Long

A roundup of the 2009 FronteraFest Long Fringe

Fri., Jan. 30, 2009

Last week, the Chronicle Arts team hit the first week of the 2009 FronteraFest Long Fringe to let you know how 11 of this year's 18 shows measure up. Dates and times for the remaining performances of each production follow the reviews. Shows are performed at either Salvage Vanguard Theater, 2803 Manor Rd., or the Blue Theater, 916 Springdale. Ticket prices vary. For reservations, call 479-PLAY. For the full schedule, see www.fronterafest.org. – Robert Faires


'Things in Life'

FronteraFest regulars may be familiar with Ben Prager, whose monologue work has been selected Best of the Fest multiple times, and here you can see why. With nothing but a chair and the most minimal of costume pieces, Prager physically and vocally transforms himself into a bigoted Southern belle, a stoner recovering from an acid overdose, an old man whose wife died suddenly in a Furr's cafeteria, a black man who once operated an awesome snack bar, a young man who hates his father, and a man who has discovered his true self by writing cabarets based on famous film scores. Prager's writing is both perceptive and hysterically funny. A few times, I laughed until I cried, and never in my wildest dreams did I think I could be emotionally moved by Darth Vader doing a self-actualization dance. Prager's writing and acting embody professionalism at its most accomplished, and while I wished for a quicker tempo, that had more to do with my selfish desire to see Prager have time for yet another monologue than with anything lacking in his performance. If you're looking for an actor working at the highest level possible, you will most certainly find one here. – Barry Pineo

Thursday, Jan. 29, 7pm; Sunday, Feb. 1, noon; Salvage Vanguard Theater.


'Kill Will: The Lost Diary of William Shakespeare'

The fight choreography in Kill Will: The Lost Diary of William Shakespeare is top-notch. This is fortunate, because there is a whole lot of it. There's gunfire and kicking and punching and bloodying, and don't be surprised if those swords upstage get put to use at some point.

The creators of Kill Will seem to be yearning after some sort of status as a love child of Martin McDonagh and Guy Ritchie, with a cast of crazy characters from the British Isles and beyond beating the snot out of one another for 90 minutes. They aren't there yet, despite some well-drawn, hilarious characters and the able direction of Nathan Osburn and playwright Austin Alexander. Some of the accents are uneven enough to cloud the story, and the plot is flimsy at best: A couple of small-time drug dealers have stumbled across the actual diary of William Shakespeare, and now half of Europe wants to kill them for it.

Still, the production features a few good performances, particularly Justin Scalise as tough-guy William Slate (think Badger in Firefly) and Osburn in three roles. (Warning: This show has enough cigarette smoke to choke a small mammal.) – Elizabeth Cobbe

Thursday, Jan. 29, 8:45pm; Sunday, Feb. 1, noon; Blue Theater.


'My Bugatti Story'

Paul Ehrmann is a brave man. He'd have to be to perform what is almost an hourlong monologue that he wrote and, to an extent, lived. (The playbill claims My Bugatti Story is 71% autobiographical.) That takes cojones.

As Alex, a man confined to a madhouse, Ehrmann makes a journey along the quivering continuum between sanity and insanity. He waxes poetic on combustion, a metaphor for humanity's internal fire, a force that won't let him bow down to the white coats who want to erase his memories through drugs. While a boy in Paris, Alex became unhinged after hearing stories of Nazi cruelty, yet he also remembers such transcendent childhood moments as watching the northern lights with his parents. Can he withstand the nightmares so he can keep his sweet memories, too, holding on to what he calls "a meaningful life"?

It's easy to get a little lost in the tale's telling, and at times Ehrmann seems stuck in his own head, as if he's working hard to recall his Hamlet-esque quantity of lines. But the poetry and intelligence of his words and his moments of confessional intimacy keep you with him. In the end, you are glad that Erhmann has kept his memories – and combustion – intact. – Clayton Maxwell

Saturday, Jan. 31, noon, Salvage Vanguard Theater.


'Dance Carousel'

A one-minute dance can be a godsend when you find it uninspired, garish, juvenile, or otherwise not worth your time (of which there are bound to be several in a 40-work concert). But if you're interested in seeing where a concept is going/if the dancers can really dance/what she's going to do with that light saber, the time limit can seem like a curse.

It certainly felt that way when Mari Akita and her dancers took the stage as public groupings – first seated tensely in a theatre, then as confined pedestrians reacting to one another's changes in direction. I remain fascinated by Amanda McCorkle's "Exhibit B," in which she and Debra McAdoo turned slowly and meditated on intricate movements of their hands during a confession-themed, punk-influenced song. I wanted to see what Darryl Pilate could do in his introspective solo once he really warmed up, and no doubt, Matt Williams and his dancers could have continued their infectious, grooving tributes to Michael Jackson all night. While it's frustrating to see promising work extinguished so quickly, several pieces give the illusion that the dance continues to exist after the performers leave the stage, which, arguably, is what the art is about. – Jonelle Seitz

Saturday, Jan. 31, 4:15pm, Salvage Van-guard Theater.

<b><i>The Dick Monologues</i></b>
The Dick Monologues
Photo Courtesy of Ori Sofer


'The Dick Monologues'

Despite its name, there's more than dick to The Dick Monologues. While Spike Gillespie's performance salon started with women who had suffered at the hands of patronizing, philandering, or otherwise testosterone-poisoned males gaining a sliver of payback by recounting their stories in biting detail to an audience, this edition reveals how the show has evolved beyond its "revenge as art" roots. Apart from Gillespie's contributions, in which she brings a dog of a boyfriend to heel and drops enlightenment on a Buddhist butt head, the stories go beyond dickish dudes to a father, to a child, to surviving in a postapocalyptic world.

That's not to say the show is dickless. The material rarely strays far from the anatomical region where the male member (and its female counterpart) may be found. From Sarah Bird wryly telling how romance-novel writing unleashed her inner pornographer to Kristine Kovach riotously proposing a Global Positioning System for use during cunnilingus to token guy Southpaw Jones singing about what women can do to him, the show wallows pleasurably in the bawdy. And with writing this smart and funny, delivery this engaging, and the vibe of a South Austin living room, you leave feeling pretty pleasured, too. – R.F.

Saturday, Jan. 31, 4:15pm, Blue Theater.


'Let's Get Real'

When Ted Jiles, insane millionaire life coach, has a really "gold" tidbit to share with the audience, he crouches down as if he's talking to a child or a dog. Some secrets have to do with the acronyms (NPB = Negative Pattern Breaker) that he scrawls on his whiteboard. Others are less formulaic, more van-down-by-the-river: "A lack of integrity is like body odor. Seriously, guys!"

Jiles, conceived and played by Michael Kranes, is a former homeless alcoholic and current crazy man (that's petting-an-imaginary-dog crazy). Audience members are cast as soul-searching folks who have paid $5,000 for his 12-hour happiness course. The show pokes fun at the change-your-life-seminar phenomenon with key words, repetition, and questionable logic. But while Kranes seems to encourage audience participation, the optimum level is unclear. At the performance I attended, he clearly wanted us to repeat Jiles' mantras, but when a spontaneous answer was given to a possibly rhetorical question, it was brushed off. Perhaps this is part of the character of Jiles, who dares not stray from his script lest he lose his marbles altogether. Regardless, the unease and unpredictability it caused make for interesting theatre. – J.S.

Saturday, Jan. 31, 6:15pm, Salvage Van-guard Theater.

<b><i>The Drowned World</i></b>
The Drowned World


'The Drowned World'

Sample vocabulary of The Drowned World: ministry, apocalyptic, us, exterminate, them, contempt, shame.

Total amount of movement by the actors: none (give or take a step or two).

The Drowned World sure doesn't come at you with kid gloves. Directed by Ken Webster, this harrowing tale weaves themes of love, longing, self, and genocide in a desperate, decided world that might have been the brainchild of George Orwell and Sarah Ruhl. The Drowned World consists of two races of people: one radiant, pure, and being hunted down; the other fearful, self-loathing, and brutally harvesting those better than them.

It's a bleak world, and the situations of the four characters (standing in a straight line on stage) make it even bleaker. Their decisions turn the knife further. The play might be hard to take, but the production is riveting to watch. Stellar performances evoke all the gripping, disturbing, difficult thoughts that playwright Gary Owen sees in humanity. Just like the play's characters, you might want to turn away from your subject matter, but this performance of The Drowned World won't let you go. – Avimaan Syam

Saturday, Jan. 31, 6:30pm; Sunday, Feb. 1, 2:15pm; Blue Theater.


'Drywall'

The program insert for this Long Fringe entry says Drywall, like any television sitcom, "is filmed in front of a live studio audience." And while I saw no cameras, I did hear a laugh track, which, like so many laugh tracks, often laughed at things that weren't particularly funny and didn't laugh at a few things that were quite funny. The plot centers around friends Doug and Peter, a Mutt-and-Jeff pair attempting to write a play – or a musical – about pirates – or space – or space pirates. They're thwarted in their attempts by their utter lack of writing talent; by Doug's wife, Allison, who wants Doug to grow up; and by mentally imbalanced handyman Roy, who spends a lot of time trying to convince anyone who will listen that Joni Mitchell is his deceased wife. But while the concept is strong and the writing often interesting, writers David Meyers and Patrick Knisely never take advantage of one really interesting thing they've got going for them: the opportunity to stop the action and acknowledge the reality of the "live studio audience." So despite the intricate TV-show hype, the show ends up being just another play. Which is all right, I guess. I just can't get over that missed opportunity. – B.P.

Saturday, Jan. 31, 8:45pm; Sunday, Feb. 1, 6:30pm; Blue Theater.

'Cochise!'

To get into the mood for Cochise!, first you need to lay down some appropriately funky porn grooves. Then you need to put on some appropriately cool tinted sunglasses. Then you need a gun, because Improv for Evil's show is an homage to Seventies cop dramas.

From the characters to the hip-huggers and bad mustaches, Cochise! really nails the Seventies period. The show revolves around John Cochise, a no-nonsense cop who's not afraid to break some rules (or noses) to see justice served. Improv for Evil takes a suggestion from the audience then builds an entire episode around it. The show I saw had Cochise's girlfriend kidnapped by a fishmonger kingpin out for revenge on the man who had thrown him in the slammer.

The arc of Cochise! recalls shows like Starksy & Hutch and Hunter, and so do the characters: the ruthless kingpin, his moronic henchmen, a spitfire damsel in distress, angry cops, and some Russians thrown in for good measure.

Improv for Evil manages to make its show humorous without undercutting the drama of its storyline, though the resolution of Saturday's show left a little to be desired. Still, it's great to see some of the Austin improv scene's wonderful recurring shows get introduced to a wider audience. – A.S.

Saturday, Jan. 31, 10:15pm, Salvage Vanguard Theater.

<b><i>Our Angle in Heaven</i></b>
Our Angle in Heaven


'Our Angle in Heaven'

Our Angle in Heaven is indeed the correct spelling of the title of Maggie Gallant's solo show. It's taken from a misspelled sign that one of her eight characters sees alongside the road in the days following Princess Diana's death. It's an emblem of the imperfect, idiosyncratic reactions of a broad spectrum of British subjects during a time of perceived national unity and mourning.

Princess Diana's death doesn't hold quite the same resonance for an American audience more than 10 years later. However, seeing other ideas spoken at a time when a nation supposedly comes together can be refreshing. And as the United States projects an image of itself as fully unified behind its new president, it can be useful to recall that we are still individuals and not everyone feels the same.

Gallant, originally from England, performs 12 quick monologues by the eight characters, including a tourist-trap opportunist, a Diana "professional impersonator," and a disinterested Muslim woman who becomes a star overnight when she is accosted on camera by a white woman desperate for common feeling. The show is quintessentially British in that there is little sentimentality. It presents lovely characters and a calm, straightforward performance full of useful curiosities. – E.C.

Sunday, Feb. 1, 4pm, Salvage Vanguard Theater.


'The Science of Suggestion'

The Science of Suggestion doesn't spell out all the 240 suggestions that its creators collected for the basis for this dance/theatre work, but the piece suggests that most had something to do with that word on everyone's lips now: change. The six dancers start by expressing ways in which they'd like to change ("I want to be more open"), then later each recites an affirmation ("Invert aversion; identify miracles," "I am letting go of expectations," et al.). And they tell stories that speak to change, such as one woman's dream of letting a tiger swallow her hand so she would know fierceness from inside the beast. And even when the dancers aren't speaking, their movements reveal some shift: One moment they're all frenzied agitation, then, as a bowl is struck, they grow still, their palms open; they walk in a mass, their motions spasmodic (rush hour?), but with each pass, one breaks off from the pack into a graceful, even prayerful position. And when the transformation isn't serene, it's joyful, an eruption of ebullient dance-party moves shared by all six. We may not know the exact nature of their desires, but we know metamorphosis has been achieved through their smiles – and our own. – R.F.

Sunday, Feb. 1, 4:30pm, Blue Theater.

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