'Long' Haul

Delivering the goods on the 2012 FronteraFest Long Fringe

During the first week of the 2012 FronteraFest Long Fringe, the Chronicle Arts team loaded up on performances and have brought back its impressions of seven of this year's 17 shows for your edification. 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 Theatre (916 Springdale). Ticket prices vary. For more information and the full schedule, visit www.hydeparktheatre.org. – Robert Faires

'Long' Haul
Courtesy of Lowell Bartholomee

'Don't Go in the House'

Sometimes the best theatre isn't very, well, theatre-y. No dance numbers, no special effects, no cast of costumed characters invigorating a painstakingly constructed set. Maybe nothing more than a bit of audio-visual enhancement providing context for a single actor speaking on a plain stage. Problem is, the written material that's spoken – the script – has to be pretty damned good to succeed in such a minimal environment. Which is why the Dirigo Group's Don't Go in the House succeeds: not much more enjoyable writing on an Austin stage, ever, than a series of insightful, pop-culture-infused monologues by Lowell Bartholomee. From the snarky comedy of "Fear Itself," an over-the-top home-security sales pitch performed by the playwright, to "Dawn of the Drowsy," a look at the job-hunting travails of an apocalypse-obsessed woman portrayed by Ellie McBride, to the childhood-memoir-cum-film-critique "They're Coming To Get You!," brought wonderfully to life by Robert S. Fisher, this show packs a triple megaton of power and cleverness into its existence. The only thing that could make it better, perhaps, is if the middle of the show featured a brief, palate-cleansing break from the Bartholomeeness – Dan Dietz's short and unsettling Heideman Award-winner called "Lobster Boy," say, given perfect voice by the Chronicle's own Robert Faires. Oh, look, you lucky theatregoer: It does. – Wayne Alan Brenner

Thursday, Feb. 2, 8:30pm, Salvage Vanguard Theater. Running time: 1 hr., 15 min.

Annie La Ganga
Annie La Ganga (Photo by Bret Brookshire)

'Drawing a Paycheck'

Annie La Ganga always knows what I need. I show up to review Drawing a Paycheck without a pen and hallelujah, Annie has carefully rubber-banded stubby pencils to the programs, which ask silly questions about arts & crafts and terrible business ideas.

Drawing a Paycheck is La Ganga's ode to the creative, multitalented Austinites who have hit middle age and still don't know how they're going to earn a living when they grow up. But the show is also a psychological experiment of sorts. By fusing her idiosyncratic improvisational storytelling with visual art, La Ganga hopes to transform her turbulent relationship with making money.

The self-designated "craft hag" reflects on two decades of a misguided "You can sell that!" art business model, sharing her failures and successes with characteristic exuberance. As she talks, La Ganga draws portraits of audience members and has us draw one another. "I wanted to show off," she giggles. "I'm a real artist!" I must admit that La Ganga's pretty good with a pencil.

I secretly hope La Ganga never gets a real job with a paycheck. I hope she keeps doing what she's doing because it is a joy to watch an artist transfixed by the beauty in this world. – Jillian Owens

Thursday, Feb. 2, 8:45pm, Blue Theatre. Running time: 1 hr., 30 min.

'Long' Haul

'Akimbo Bubble Scuttle Ruckus'

The latest project that improv group Da Foundry has forged is exactly what it sounds like: a nonsensical, irrelevant hullabaloo. In Akimbo Bubble Scuttle Ruckus, playwright Topping Haggerty strings together a mess of short sketches that, as we learn in the end, are all strangely linked. But you'll have to see the show to learn how Haggerty and her co-directors Susannah Raulino and Brandon Paul Salinas connect zombies in rehab, an equivocating evil villain, a woman out to dinner with 47 dates, and an American who aspires to become a Brit, among other oddball characters.

Though the spirited ensemble had energy to spare, some of the sketches fell flat, perhaps a consequence of a small Sunday evening house. Still, after the performance I found myself standing in mental akimbo – that is, with hands on hips – trying to make heads or tails of the fairly uninspiring ruckus I'd just seen.

That's not to say that Akimbo Bubble didn't have its moments – there were glimmers of hilarity, particularly a sketch in which a horde of aggressive puppets murder their human handlers. I think perhaps, as David Rosenbaum crooned in the final scene, I just wasn't drunk enough to get it. – J.O.

Saturday, Feb. 4, 1pm; Sunday, Feb 5, 3pm, Salvage Vanguard Theater. Running time: 1 hr.

'Long' Haul

'Southern Fried Chickie'

Larry the Cable Guy has met his match in a busty, blond Tupelo, Mississippi, princess. In her entertaining one-woman show Southern Fried Chickie, Christy McBrayer proves that she's become everything her daddy wanted her to be: a strong, beautiful woman who knows as much as any man and can still drink him under the table. She's even got the unholy white trash – excuse me, debris blanc – trio of Jim Beam, PBR, and a Tab chaser ready to go.

Transforming with ease into 10 different Southern chickies before a delighted audience, McBrayer narrates funny, poignant, and sometimes unsettling conversations with family and friends during a rare visit to her trailer park homeland. Among the host of quirky relations are chain-smokers, convicts, bitches, and alcoholics, women with big hearts and bigger hair who smoke Virginia Slims Menthol Lights and sip Rosé while quoting the Bible.

Though Southern Fried Chickie might ring true for Southerners, Yanks may wrinkle their noses at its playful treatment of domestic abuse and racism. But to lighten things up, a charming "redneck Greek chorus" accompanies McBrayer, strumming everything from Johnny Cash to Alison Krauss to Poison. The only thing missing is "Freebird." – J.O.

Saturday, Feb. 4, 4:45pm, Salvage Vanguard Theater. Running time: 1 hr., 15 min.

'Holier Than Thou'

If the Second Coming were to occur in 2012 America, how else would we determine who he or she is than with a reality television competition? That's the hook of Holier Than Thou, which features seven performers (both onstage and via giant video talking heads) offering an oral history of their attempt to win the powers of the Messiah for a week.

There are some limitations inherent to an oral history, but director Bethany Perkins does a fine job of building chemistry among her actors and mitigating the fact that the "show vs. tell" dynamic is skewed so heavily toward the latter that the actors only look at each other one time during the entire play. Kacy Todd, particularly, impresses as she carries the piece's emotional climax via monologue – always a challenge.

Holier Than Thou struggles when the details of its competition get confusing – as on any good reality show, everybody's got challenges to perform, but it's not always clear exactly what's happening – but it's a play that aims high to address heady theological and cultural themes in a script by Bastion Carboni that also features satisfyingly immature jokes about Jesus and ball-punching. That makes for a lot of moving parts for a play where most of the actors don't even leave their chairs, and that sort of ambition is satisfying to watch. – Dan Solomon

Saturday, Feb. 4, 8:15pm, Blue Theatre. Running Time: 1 hr.

'Long' Haul

'The Crapstall Street Boys'

Here's a Long Fringe show that comes in two parts: first, a minicircus, and next, a puppet play.

Circus Chickendog gave about 15 minutes of lovely, innocent circus entertainment; what it lacks in expensive three-ring pizzazz it makes up for in simple fun.

Then Trouble Puppet Theater Company presented its newest creation, a dark and sad story about a lonely boy who believes his name is "You Lad" for want of being called anything else. You Lad's parents sell him to a factory so they can get money to buy protection from the monsters roaming their town. Once in the factory, You Lad discovers the sad secret behind the monster invasion.

Steve Moore narrates the story, and one of the puppeteers carries a camera amidst the action. An upstage screen shows what the camera sees, providing a different and more intimate view of the story. The technology isn't quite there yet – the feed was inconsistent – but the concept is interesting. As a finished show, it's a little rough, but taken as a workshop production, The Crapstall Street Boys is fascinating and worth seeing as an exploration of a new direction in the company's work. One of Trouble Puppet's strengths is harnessing good talent and seeing where it can take them. The Crapstall Street Boys fortunately follows this trend. – Elizabeth Cobbe

Saturday, Feb, 4, 6:45pm, Salvage Vanguard Theater. Running Time: 45 min.

'The Alien Baby Play'

The Alien Baby Play is a weird little play, but it's a good one. Bethany (Kathleen Fletcher) plays a 15-month-pregnant lady who's invited an audience for the arrival of her extraterrestrial offspring.

She's a nervous personality anyway, and given the circumstances, her regular tics and twitches have now graduated into some full-on crazies. She is terrified of what will soon emerge from her body: A monster? An alien? A child who wants to be loved? She endures this state with an endearing wryness and confusion.

It's thanks to Fletcher that the show succeeds; she plays both the hysteria and the humor, and she engages the audience as a second character in the play, making whatever it brings into part of her story. One might call it nimble: the ability to play a role so thoroughly that the unexpected only feeds a performance.

The script from Nicholas Walker Herbert is puzzling but clever. Gary Jaffe's direction is great, based on the strength of Fletcher's work. This Tutto Theatre Company show provides an evening of goofy, quirky entertainment. – E.C.

Sunday, Feb, 5, 7:15pm, Salvage Vanguard Theater. Running Time: 1 hr., 30 min.

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FronteraFest, Trouble Puppet Theater Company, Steve Moore, Circus Chickendog, Tutto Theatre Company, Kathleen Fletcher, Da Foundry, Dirigo Group, Lowell Bartholomee, Annie La Ganga, Christy McBrayer

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