Chicago Fringe Festival 2013
An overload of uncensored, audacious theatre
Article and reviews by Keith Glab
For a long time, it could be said that there were more ways to get to Jefferson Park than things to do while you’re there. While the incredible accessibility of the Blue Line, Metra, two expressways, and a terminal housing a dozen bus routes remains, the quip about a lack of activities is no longer valid, admirably proven as the Taste of Polonia overlaps with the fourth annual Chicago Fringe Festival, which makes its first appearance in this revitalized Northwest Side neighborhood.
The festival encompasses 49 different shows featuring artists from all around the country over an 11-day period, and all of the performances run between 45-60 minutes long. In addition to The Gift Theatre – an intimate space housing Jefferson Park’s critically acclaimed equity company of the same name – vacant storefronts, a church basement, and a converted gymnasium serve as venues, allowing five different shows to run concurrently at any given time. All the venues are located within a couple blocks of the Jefferson Park Transit station.
Five bucks gets you a snazzy festival button, which allows admission to all of the shows. You can then reserve tickets to individual shows for $10 each online, a good idea since performances can often be sold out. There are also discounts available for ticket packages to see five or more shows. Tickets can also be purchased at Fringe Central or the individual venues, and 100% of ticket money goes to the performers.
I attended three exceedingly different shows on opening night (reviews below), and also had plenty of time to grab a drink at Fringe Central (a section of Fischman’s Liquors, recently named one of Chicago’s best establishments for craft beer) in between performances.
|Not Another Teen Solo Show|
Rati Gupta, an Indian girl who grew up in a predominately white Indiana high school (sporting a thick Midwestern accent to prove it), struggles to fit in by using the cheesy teen movies of the late 90s as her guide. Rati bursts with energy and uses interstitial videos to keep the audience engaged while she makes costume changes. In a show like this, the key is to make the audience empathize with the performer rather than look back at the things we all worried about in high school as now trivial. Without question, Rati’s stark candor and likeable vulnerability achieve this. The audience goes along with Rati on an emotional roller coaster, bursting into laughter throughout the journey thanks to great material and delivery. I wasn’t up on many of her pop culture and movie references, but still loved it.
|Jonathan Baude presents|
A chatty plumber named Harry comes to fix a pipe in the cell of Leon Czolgosz, the man who assassinated President McKinley in 1901. Harry winds up playing psychologist to the taciturn Leon, trying to understand the assassin’s supposed anarchistic motives. But is Harry really the innocent, blue-collar man he appears to be? And was anarchism Leon’s real impetus for his act? Given the weight of the material, Jonathan Baude is able to inject a surprising amount of humor in his piece through simple staging and incredibly precise comic timing from his two actors. The seemingly straightforward Henry (Rob Grabowski) forms a comedic double-act with the tight-lipped Leon (Cody Proctor) before a turn raises the stakes for the both of them. Subtle and honest performances from the two actors enhance Baude’s tight, clever script into a production that educates, entertains, and makes you think.
Written/Directed by Jonathan Baude, with all performances at Hold The Pickles Stage, 5320 W. Giddings, basement (map). Cast: Cody Proctor (Leon), Rob Grabowski (Henry). (Running time: 45 minutes, NO intermission)
|Genesis Ensemble presents|
An ensemble of two men and three women endeavor to settle debates of religion versus science by looking at various issues – such as the existence of God and UFOs – through different prisms. Unfortunately, a cumbersome setup and a complete lack of focus prevent the audience from delving into most of the interesting topics presented. Constant shifts from congressional hearings to historical re-enactments to direct audience address to abstract movement vignettes get frustrating. The show is full of theatrical gimmicks of dubious purpose: gender-blind casting, drenching someone in water to end an argument; the parodied portrayal of famous figures such as Albert Einstein, Johnny Carson, and Rod Serling. Even the audience participation doesn’t add anything to the performance. Brief moments in the show do work though, such as Amanda Dunne Acevedo relating the death of a family member, or Sergio Soltero giving an understated portrayal of Gandhi discussing Christianity. The cast does well with movement sequences when they are given a proper context, as they are during a hypnotism scene, and that deserves praise since the venue was uncomfortably hot for audience and performers alike on the evening I attended, doubtless sapping energy from both parties. Alexis Atwill stands out as the most genuine and grounded performer amidst all the chaos.
Devised by the Genesis Ensemble and directed by Lindsey Barlag Thornton, with choreography by Kristyn Hegner, dramaturgy by Libby Hladik and Erika Schmidt. All performances at Spilled Milk Stage, 5320 W. Giddings, 3rd Floor (map). Cast: Amanda Dunne Acevedo, Alexis Atwill, McKenzie Gerber, Ellen Girvin, Sergio Soltero. More information at GenesisEnsemble.blogspot.com. (Running time: 50 minutes, NO intermission.)
These three shows only hint at the variety of offerings. In Drinking with the Dad: My years as a birthday party musician, Edd Fairman provides an interactive magic show that includes balancing dishes on his nose. Boobs and Hope is a humorous-yet-moving take on body image from the well-endowed Dana Sumner-Pritchard. A New Orleans troupe presents Hip Hop Is Alive: The Play (website), seeking to dispel misconceptions about the genre through vignettes that incorporate hip hop dance and music. Anonymously Yours presents monologues taken directly from various places around the internet. The King & I: A Hunk of Burning Love sees a man change his name to Melvis Praisely and start an Elvis Evangelical church (this one wins the award for best costumes). Stephanie Weber purports to be a Totally Regular Person Doing Normal Things, but this is quite misleading, whereas Lil’ Women – A Rap Musical delivers exactly what it promises. And in Get Ready for the Vagina Fairy, Rebecca Kling illustrates life as a transgender woman, complete with a strip Q&A session and an edible penis. Fringe Central also hosts special events nightly, including a dance party, prom night, karaoke, Olympics, and more.
With such a wide variety of genres, the Chicago Fringe Festival offers something to suit anyone’s tastes. But to stay true to the spirit of the Fringe Festival, challenge yourself to see something that you might not ordinarily attend.
Chicago Fringe Festival 2013 continues through September 8th at Fringe Central, 4780 N. Milwaukee (map) and several nearby venues. Tickets are $10 per show, plus a $5 festival admission. More info by calling 773-428-7336 or visiting chicagofringe.org.
Hip Hop Is Alive: The Play