Saturday, August 13, 2016

Day Four: Mini Reviews from 2016 Edinburgh Fringe Festival

2016 Edinburgh Fringe Show #10
Callisto: a queer epic
Howard Coase

Four stories of the recent and far past and the much farther future intertwine in Howard Coase’s new work, Callisto: a queer epic, to explore same-sex relationships – all with the common thread of “Callisto,” the fourth and largest moon of Jupiter.  Time and space, fact and fiction, earth and the outer realms of the galaxy mix and mingle among the stories as men and women lust and love those of their own sex, struggling to accept and/or struggling to be accepted.  Eight actors play multiple parts and personalities that cross every boundary imaginable, and each does so with great skill and sensitivity.

The play begins and ends in 1675 London with the trial of Restoration opera star, Arabella Hunt (Gráinne O’Mahony), and her wife, Amy Poulter (Georgia Bruce), long disguised as her actor husband until discovered by a stage rival during rehearsals for Cavalli’s La Callisto.  Theirs was the first recorded lesbian marriage in history, and each actress portrays the full beauty and constant danger of such a bond in those times.

Tammy Frazier (Emma D’Arcy) leaves in a second story her porn-watching husband in Nebraska to become in California “Tiger Go-Lightly,” a new star of the sex film industry for Callisto Studios.  There she eventually meets the new love of her life, Daisy Lew (Mary Higgens), a love that is solidified only after the two commit an act with bloody consequences.

A third thread involves WWII Nazi-code-busting hero, Alan Turing (James Watterson), as he finds escape and solace in his mathematical explorations while mourning the love of his life, Christopher Morcom.  He also forms a deep relationship with Morcom’s mother, Isabel (Phoebe Hames), who has resorted to Catholicism as her healer of her loss.  Alan has come to Isabel to confess taking from her some of her son’s letters and to tell her it is her son who actually made the first discovery of Pluto, long associated by astronomers as just another moon (or ‘callisto’).

And then to the far future of 2223 on Callisto itself where Lorn (Domini Applewhite), a Maker of artificial worlds, works diligently to create a setting that resembles the forests and streams of Earth.  He also keeps recreating an beautiful, A.I. man, Cal (Nicolas Finerty), eventually discovering his love for Cal is more than just a virtual dream.

Each of these tales and their many characters of every eccentricity blends one into the other over the course of the play, with each actor taking on a main and many minor roles.  Thomas Bailey directs this exceptional cast with an eye toward invention, pushing boundaries, and tugging heartstrings.  The result is a play that informs, challenges, electrifies, and mesmerizes all at the same time due to its structure, content, visuals, and emotional impact.

Rating: 5 E


2016 Edinburgh Fringe Show #11
Hamlet in Bed
Michael Laurence
Richard Jordan Productions & Brian Long Productions

“Oh, I have this thing,” the man dressed in black at the mike declares.  “I am Hamlet, and Hamlet is me.”  Michael’s passion for playing Hamlet is only out-matched by his drive to find out who the mother is that abandoned him at birth.  Michael Laurence stars in his own Hamlet in Bed, a 2015 Off-Broadway production and a riveting play about a man who will use whatever deception necessary to get the woman he perceives to be his mother onto a rehearsal stage with him – she as Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother, and he of course as the famed son.

A discovered diary bought from a New York street vendor leads Michael to Anna May Miller (Annette O’Toole), a washed-up Shakespearean actress who now drowns twenty-year-old, haunting memories in any local dive bar she stumbles into.  Michael devises a ploy and plan to lure her back to the stage to star with him in an avant-garde production of Hamlet, with the entire play occurring only in one bed.  As the two become friendlier in their intense rehearsals, Michael begins to plant more and more hints that their mother-son relationship is something beyond just that on a script.

Reprising their New York roles in this year’s Fringe, both actors give stunning, jaw-dropping performances.  On a stage that is blank save two mikes and a mattress (designed by Rachel Hauck), Scott Zielinski has designed a lighting scheme that heightens and accents the mounting drama as it unfolds, further enhanced by outstanding sound design by Bart Fasbender.  In such a setting, each actor calls on a wide range of expressed emotions and physical prowess to enact the inner struggles and the outward tensions that mount as the play progresses.  Shakespeare’s script and their own planned and unplanned scripts intertwine for a real-life drama that is as acute and gripping as anything the Bard himself could have imagined.  What each must come to grips in order to face the truth of the other’s role in his/her life brings audience to seat’s edge and their hearts to an aching for what is seen and felt. 

To have the chance to be awarded such a gift of a play this impactful and performances this powerful is why the Fringe Festival draws its hundreds of thousands each year to Edinburgh.  How lucky we few in this setting picked Hamlet in Bed among the hundreds of theatrical choices afforded us.

Rating: 5 E


2016 Edinburgh Fringe Show #12

There’s a boy in an attic in a home in a town in a world in a universe.  And there are a lot of boxes everywhere, boxes full of Tommy’s past all the way back to the beginning of time.  As his Nann reminds him, “We’ve all got a brain full of boxes.”

In full fun and mighty seriousness, six clowns create in panoramic, fast-mode fashion three generations of Tommy’s family as the beginning blur of many passing scenes and sequences of The Human Zoo’s highly creative, sometimes bizarre, always entertaining Giant.  Props and people fly furiously in and out of side doors, a clothes closet, and a refrigerator; onto a ledge and up into the attic; under and over tables and of course, in and out of boxes.  While things never settle to a normal pace, a story does begin to flow of Tommy’s first job, first love, and first real understanding of who he is and can be.

Freddie Cossley is the wide-eyed, innocent-faced Tommy with clown-rosy cheeks who falls for a perpetually interning Alex (Florence O’Mahoney).  He lives in a three-generation home with his single mom, Julie (Fleur Rooth); his brother and boss, Ethan (Nick Gilbert); and his grandparents, Margaret (Nann) and Jeff (Rosalind Hoy and Hedley Roach).  His life is in constant motion and emotion as an incredible choreography of events and people pass through each day as he strives to figure out what he really wants in his life and with whom.  Clown actors play multiple, ever-changing roles around him, with each main character of his life taking center stage at some point to highlight in hilarious manners some aspect of his/her life’s story.

In the end, the highly creative, imaginative geniuses of Human Zoo Theatre Company leave us with the clear message that we learn along with Tommy:  We are everything and every body who has come before us, all boxed up somewhere in our minds, souls, and beings.

Rating: 5 E


2016 Edinburgh Fringe Show #13
Ushers: The Front House Musical
Yiannis Koufsakos (Music); James Oban and Iannis Koufsakos (Lyrics); James Rottger (Book and Additional Lyrics)

The West End musical “Oops! Did It Again” is about to begin another matinee performance; and ushers are poised in the aisles read to sell, sell, sell.  The red-tied, black-coated cast of theatre servants greets us in rousing, full-voiced harmony and high steps, coming down the aisles to the stage with “Good Afternoon, Welcome.”  With our spirits and expectations fully aroused, thus begins Ushers: The Front House Musical, a new creation about the in-the-aisles, in-the-foyers, and sometimes in-the-supply-closet lives of those folks we mostly ignore except when we need another drink or treat.

As we soon learn, the drama, villainy, and love trysts we see on any given stage play quite the back-row seat to the same that occurs among this venue’s set of ushers.  A troupe of mostly aspiring, out-of-work actors, most of these ushers share the dream of Lucy (Millie Davies) who sings in a voice that strengthens in beauty and power with each advancing bar, “I always thought to be opening upon a West End stage  ... but now I’m here selling programs and ice creams”).  Fellow usher Rosie (Sophie Allen) is less interested in being a star than in bedding a star as she sings with sexy prowess in her stripped-down, black bustier, “I Have a Thing for Leading Men.”

The cast voices among these ushers are all strong and refreshing.  A prime and perhaps best example is when Ben (Alex Mackinder) sings “Time To Let Go” as he contemplates losing his ushering boyfriend, Gary.  Belting his magnificent baritone vocals in deep sadness and desperation, Ben blasts in clarity without an ounce of distortion or over-singing.  Gary too brings a fine tenor voice that hits the right notes in “A Boy Meets a Boy,” and together they are one of the show’s highlights in their touching, well-sung duet, “Loving You Is All I Know.”

But every backstage drama needs a villain; and Clarke Keable totally fits the playbill as an evil, money-hungry, womanizing house manager named Robin Pockets.  Each time Mr. Keable steps forward for Robin’s moment in the spotlight, he lets loose in a full-voiced, light opera mode that rips along in rapidly sung lyrics, that quivers in melodrama, and that sends the audience into total guffaws.

Musical Director Becky Brookes and Choreographer Kennedy Cassy have awarded us not only the toe-tapping opening number with full cast but also knock-out numbers to close the first act (a mash up of “It’s the Interval” and “Time to Let Go”) and to close the show itself (a curtain-calling finale complete with outstanding tap routine by the entire cast). 

Ably directed with a clip fast and fun, Nicola Orrell has given us an Ushers that sells itself as a program well worth the price of its purchase and an evening of total Fringe Festival delight.

Rating: 4 E


2016 Edinburgh Fringe Show #14
Naked Magicians
The Pleasance

The title says it all.  Everyone of the wide-eyed gay men and screaming single women (of whom there is a theatre full) is at Naked Magicians not for the magic, but for the baring of skin they hope to see.  Christopher Wayne and Michael Tyler declare up front, “Good magicians don’t need sleeves; great magicians don’t need pants. So we literally do magic with our sleeves up and pants down.”  And while they begin their slight of hand, mind-boggling antics fully clothed, eventually they please all by revealing their stacked abs, tight butts, and well ... you can guess the rest. 

But first, they titillate, stimulate, and surprise each on-stage volunteer as well as the entire audience with magic tricks that are nothing short than amazing (even if many of them are ones most people may have seen somewhere before).  These two are nothing if not gorgeous and great entertainers, full of muscle in just the right places as well as humorous banter and big-hearted personalities.  For a late-night Fringe Festival warm-up for hot time in the ol’ town, Naked Magicians is a winner.

Rating: 4 E

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