FronteraFest Short Fringe: Week 3

No one would ever plan a night of theatre such as the night of theatre that was the FronteraFest Short Fringe Best of Week 3, but it set a high-water mark for entertainment

Left to right: Bob McNichol, Erika May, Rachel Madorsky, Dave Buckman
Left to right: Bob McNichol, Erika May, Rachel Madorsky, Dave Buckman

FronteraFest Short Fringe: Week 3

Hyde Park Theatre, Feb. 3

No one would ever plan a night of theatre such as the night of theatre that was Short Fringe Best of Week 3, but it set a high-water mark for entertainment. The audience was laughing for the better part of 2 hours. A great part of the enjoyment was derived from the wonderful variety of ways in which the entertainment occurred.

Big Poppa E got the night rolling with his contagious energy. He screamed, "I am the biggest asshole in all the mosh pit." But in truth, he went on to explain, he is a "wussy boy" and proud of it. He thanks those who have made wussy-boy-ness mainstream, particularly Elijah Wood as Frodo Baggins. Big Poppa E delivered a series of mostly autobiographical spoken-word poems. Highlights were his defense of Pluto ("A rose by any other name is still a freakin' planet") and his Bitter Ex-Girlfriend Haiku series. A boisterous beginning.

Next came the Available Cupholders. First and foremost, I was impressed with the balls of this troupe. Improv can become victim to poor suggestions from the audience. These guys bravely rejected "The Life and Times of the Crocodile Hunter" and accepted the more versatile platform "The Ant in the Mushroom Forest." Thank God. Otherwise, we might never have met Bob-Ka and Headcomb, two young worker ants. The world would never have been blessed with Bill Stern's ditties on "Temporary Ant Peace." We were treated to bizarre characters such as the Blind Speaking Non-Mushroom and Mant, a man ant. My favorite line was, "Headcomb, you have possibly injured my floor." Or was it: "You think one mushroom-laden scepter will evoke some sort of peace agreement?" These guys are hilarious and inventive. Their ant-mushroom play was 20 minutes of epic debauchery, complete with grasshopper gore.

When Luna Tart walked on stage in low blue light, she changed the room. This piece was a bright theatrical island rising from the expanse of less formal performance. Laura Freeman's "Luna Tart Died of a Broken Heart" is a simultaneous composition of magnificence and desperation. This character was so thoroughly complete that she felt familiar. With every brilliant song she plucked on her tiny ukulele, she evoked entire worlds. Luna Tart drags a vast and curious history behind herself, like the train of a stained, sequined dress. Laura Freeman's work was gorgeous.

After intermission came Genevieve Van Cleve, a spoken-word artist of a totally different breed from Big Poppa E. "Chick on the Team" was a series of political poems. Her ideas are fierce, insightful, and packaged in anecdotes that make them accessible. In an interesting collision of circumstances, she performed a satirical piece about being a wicked stepmother, and her stepson was in the audience. She was clearly aware of his presence as she stormed into lines such as, "I force plateful after plateful of liver down their throats before sending them outside to farm in the dark." Her sarcasm is thick, which keeps her sincerity surprising. In a powerful piece condemning the manipulation of Christ, she said, "I want Jesus back. They can't have him … anymore." The most heartfelt moment came when she paid tribute to her mentor, the recently deceased Molly Ivins, an irreplaceable voice in American journalism.

Finally and excellently, the Frank Mills climbed on stage. This was the evening's second long-form improv troupe, but the two were worlds apart in style and tempo. The Frank Mills graced the stage with fine-tuned intelligence. Working with the suggestion of "Passover," they developed what could be a scripted scene about culture clash. It began as an awkward dinner party between a Jewish couple that has just moved to the neighborhood and a Catholic couple that is ineptly trying to host a Passover celebration. By the end, it was a joyful melding of faiths. They were toasting "L'chaim" over Communion wafers, and the Catholics were furiously searching for the hidden chametz. The troupe calls its work character-driven, and it's an accurate description of their calm, confident, and impressive improvisation. In particular, Erika May's Laura Ingalls Wilder-loving character buoyed the scene with her charm.

I am sold on this structure for a fringe fest, and I am sold on the 20-minute format for theatre. A breeding ground, a testing ground. In this day and short-attention-span age, 20 minutes might just be the perfect length of time. The perfect theatre unit.

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FronteraFest Short Fringe, Big Poppa E, Available Cupholders, the Frank Mills, Laura Freeman, Genevieve Van Cleve

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