By now, if you have been around Horton Plaza or even around the Diversionary Theatre in University Heights, you have probably seen people wandering around, slightly glassy-eyed, with dog tags with a crazy-looking character on them. Not to worry, you haven’t missed the ComicCon madness…yet. But you are still on time to catch the many acts that remain for the San Diego International Fringe Festival 2016. The 11 day festival is now into the last week of its run with a crazy but well-organized open behind it.
Like all festivals, it has the amazing, the annoying and the ok in spades. Unlike other festivals, the Fringe doesn’t judge what comes through, letting audience reaction be the guide. Judging from the audience reaction over the last week, there are a number of acts to catch, and several to give the nod to, and even a few to bypass.
One obvious audience favorite is “The Phantom of the Empire: The Return of the Opera,” by local theatre group, Turning Tydes Theatre Company. A mash up of several Star Wars films set to the score of “Phantom of the Opera,” the show is an electrifying display of amazing voices, great comedic timing, and hilarious props. Now that they’re over their opening show tech problems, this is a must see.
If you like ensemble pieces, “Strangers, Lovers, Family, Friends,” is waiting for you. A strong opening earlier this week, Company of Cohorts delivers great things in four one acts. Well-written and well timed, the stories will keep you intrigued as a wedding gets randy, the Angel of Death gets slightly confused and a man discovers he has…a narrator. Family is crazy, but still it’s yours, as we find out. Stellar performances all around.
On a more contemplative note, “Disappearing Act,” is a fine if sobering look at what happens when Johnny comes marching home, dragging PTSD from several tours of duty in Iraq in his wake. Brother Alex comes home twice from deployment, once to get engaged and then again to a crumbling inner and outer world- his violence drives his fiancée away and inner agony destroys one friend and threatens to engulf Alex. It’s a tough play to watch, but done with dignity and care- an important commentary on what is a reality for a number of people among us.
Another must see is “1918,” by Le Moana Productions, all the way in from New Zealand. Dynamic and mesmerizing, the show manages to be both moving and uplifting. “1918” tells the story of the devastating impact the Spanish Flu had on the Samoans. Brought ashore from a ship that was not properly quarantined, the Spanish Flu tore through the Samoan population, killing 22% of the people of Western Samoa. Through gesture, traditional dance moves and narration in Samoan, “1918” looks at life pre-epidemic and chronicles the depraved incompetence of the New Zealand colonial administrator who refused help from American Samoa. Later, the epidemic spurs the population to revolt and a new cultural consciousness joyfully arises as young Samoans strive to recover their culture.
If audience reaction is any indication, the beautiful costumes and stunning footwork will fill the seats, so get your tickets soon.
One dance troupe well worth checking out is the Concrete Collective, in from Australia. The small troop takes a modest set and imbues it with a wealth of emotions as dancers and text move from stillness to anxiety to contemplation of the self in relationship to space, technology and human interaction. The choreography is precise and lyrical and the story flow is mesmerizing. Catch “person who watchestelevisiontoomuch” at the 10th Avenue Arts Center.
If you’re looking for something from a local troupe, look no further than “The Feathered Serpent” from Unidentified Dance in collaboration with Borinquen Dance Theatre of Rochester New York. Founders and choreographers Margaret Moreno and Trevor Van Orden quote from the various dance traditions from Bomba to Azteca and the dances of Cuba to create a rich exploration of the roots of Latino culture. Gorgeous costumes and a beautifully executed choreography make this a treat to watch.
There are several one person shows at the Fringe this year. One has already packed up and if you missed it, it might be back in some form later. “Qaddafi’s Cook” presents a little-known story, based on true events. Alvaro Flores is the sous-chef, “Fredy” who carries the story, along with reading from the diary of the chef, “Sergio” by Sergio’s sister (Paola Madrigal). The two Mexican chefs suddenly find themselves in the Libyan dictator’s employ, tasked with presenting two new dishes a day. It is, as Fredy says, quite a challenge. And Fredy takes you along, inviting you to “eat like a dictator” so you might understand what it is to BE the dictator. You will never look at watermelon the same.
History has a way of repeating itself and seven score and 13 years later, we are still embroiled in contentious divisions. Annette Hubbell starts with an intriguing promise in “Witness to Gettysburg,” a retelling of the Battle of Gettysburg through the eyes of one Hattie Turner, widowed young during the three day battle. The costuming is great, the story detailed, but the telling is a little stiff, weighed down by facts and information delivered years later. Great for Civil War buffs, but drags a bit for others.
On the other hand, how many people get a step by step lecture on how to change the world- from Osama Bin Laden, no less. “Bin Laden: The One Man Show” is an unusual look at someone who forever changed the world. Taken mainly from Bin Laden’s own words and research on him, the show presents a man of conviction who saw himself as changing the Middle East, freeing it of dictators and colonialism. An elegantly staged and delivered piece, it’s a must for those trying to make sense of the world we live in today. This is not George Bush’s evildoer, but something more subtle, more nuanced.
Lots of political edge here in an election year. One show to schedule lower on the to see list is the promisingly named “The Year of the Woman.” What could have been an engaging and intelligent look at American politics and female candidates turns into a flawed collection of tangled threads with a distinctly misogynist bent. No amount of prancing or head tossing will save this unsettling tale of a former super model turned venal presidential candidate, the beleaguered journalist she longs to bed, and the underhanded assistant who undercuts her at every turn.
On the other hand, who says high school is but a distant memory? Not the Coronado School for the Arts! COSA alumni and students come together in this one act farce that re-imagines the current election season as one big high school drama- aka, election for school president. This should help you through the next few months!
To See (in addition to above):
Josephine– an absolute must with one more show. This is cabaret/story at its best. Tymisha Harris is an engaging, enchanting Josephine Baker. (NC-17)
Letters From The Wall: part of the Bi-national Fringe, a look at reality along the border in English and in Spanish.
Nations of San Diego: different dance traditions every time. A gorgeous sampling of the wide variety of dance traditions in San Diego.
Bella Culpa: I cannot emphasize enough how charming and talented this duo is. Great show for kids and adults. Fun, constantly moving and surprising.
Circus: catch Mythos and Mysterium for stunning aerials and mysterious storytelling.
The San Diego Fringe continues through Sunday, July 3. Check www.sdfringe.org for times, details, and late add-ons.