FronteraFest Short Fringe: Week 1

The novel dose of the now offered by the FronteraFest Short Fringe was on view Jan. 19, notably in "Bliss," a verse drama of dangerous beauty, and David Hendler's poems of Jewish identity

Arts Review

FronteraFest Short Fringe: Week 1

Hyde Park Theatre, Jan. 19

While a bit of time has passed, the new year is still fresh, and few artistic endeavors are fresher than the FronteraFest Short Fringe, which each year offers a novel dose of the now with new works, or at least new performances, from the abundant talent that calls Central Texas home. While in the past each evening of the Short Fringe offered five different works to savor, the recent spate of wet and frigid weather that forced the cancellation of the first two nights of this year's fest meant six pieces were offered to the packed Hyde Park Theatre on Friday, Jan. 19. If you're lucky, you might get an extra one on the evening you attend.

The first offering was Noel Gaulin in Anton Chekhov's "The Dangers of Tobacco." Ostensibly a lecture on the insidious weed, Gaulin spent much of his time amusingly setting up a microphone and then proceeding to twitch and strain and complain, mostly about his wife, accompanied by the more often than not raucous laughter of the assembled crowd. Next up was another solo performer, Marisa Varela, performing "Today I Am Happy!" by Cristina Merelli. An assemblage of rambling lists about how this particular individual has tried every kind of religion, cosmetic procedure, etc., "Happy" suffered somewhat through juxtaposition with the similar "Tobacco," but Varela expertly delivered the material and eventually held the audience in the palm of her charming hand. The first half of the program concluded with another solo piece, "Thanks for the Add, Love Tom," by Joanna Ebz and Matt Dy. Subtitled "A MySpace Monoblog," it concerned the president of MySpace, Tom Anderson, played with manic energy by Dy. While a detailed familiarity with the MySpace phenomenon would have helped, the theme of isolation in modern society was difficult to miss.

While the first half of the program was successful, the second half was even more so. In "Bliss," a gorgeous husband and a beautiful wife decide to end their perfect lives after murdering a hooker. Steven Laing's script is a thing of dangerous beauty, blithely written in verse and yet daringly touching on subjects that would make even the most liberal among us cringe. In "Living Under Water," David Hendler passionately delivered six original poems about his Jewish heritage. While Hendler did not appear to be the most experienced performer, his beautiful writing and commitment to it overcame a somewhat awkward presentation. Less successful was the original script "Happy Town, Happy People," by Don Fried, about the Russian village of Hradec, wherein all the married couples are forced to divorce in order to maximize their incomes. The concept was amusing, but the production appeared woefully under-rehearsed.

Recently the folks at the Fest have allowed the audience to vote for their favorite show on any given evening, with the show receiving the most votes moving on to the Best of the Week. When I asked what would happen if I voted for two, I was told by the young lady guarding the box that my ballot would be "ripped up." Nice. In the rebellious spirit of the Fest, I told the young lady that I wouldn't vote at all, but here's hoping "Bliss" and "Living Under Water" both get the attention they richly deserve.

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FronteraFest Short Fringe, Hyde Park Theatre, Steven Laing, David Hendler, Noel Gaulin, Marisa Varela, Cristina Merelli, Joanna Ebz, Matt Dy

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