By Rebecca Romani
June 14, 2019
If you dropped by the San Diego International Fringe this year, you have probably noticed it’s a leaner, more concentrated festival than before. Despite a slightly rocky start, SD Fringe 19 has done well in what Executive Director Kevin Charles Patterson hopes will be its new home in Balboa Park.
One of the issues was with the on-line schedule, but that is all clear now and you can go here for the downloadable program to finish out the Fringe and see some of this year’s best shows.
With a leaner Fringe comes greater opportunity to see the substantial variety of shows on tap. Instead of over 80 shows (as in past years) competing for space and your attention, 24 well-programmed productions are on the schedule. With five show times each, it’s easy to see most, if not all, the scheduled artists. In addition, the added bonus is that many shows are at the two cultural centers, The Centro Cultural de la Raza and the WorldBeat Center at the southern edge of Balboa Park on Park Boulevard. Right across Park Blvd. is a huge lot where you can park and then go fringe to your heart’s content. From there, it’s a casual and short walk to Fringe Central next to the Aerospace Museum where you can get fringe swag, snacks, tickets, or just hang out and chat with the artists. The other main venue, the Marie Hitchcock Theatre, is just next door.
This weekend marks the end of SD Fringe 19, but the wonderful wildness goes on until the far side of five on Sunday, with multiple shows each day.
Your best bet is to pick up a pass, if you haven’t already, as well as a Fringe tag (required, $5), and settle in for a broad selection of interesting work.
While all the shows are well done, there are a number running this final section that stand out because of content, presentation, and style.
“Your Best American Girl” (MaArte Theatre Collective). Dedicated to telling Filipino-American Stories, MaArte brings a well-crafted, sharp one-woman show. Ciarlene Coleman is in turns deeply funny, self-deprecating, and relevant as she takes the audience along on a journey through what it means to be Filipino-American and looking for a place in a society where she belongs (her great grandfather is Texan) and yet visually doesn’t fit in. Her send-up of “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys,” is touching (“Cowboys are easy to love…”) and her montage/monologue to “White Boys” from “Hair” is both hilariously self-aware and a bit disturbing. Coleman’s message that representation counts is sharply witty and right on point.
“Shelter” (Renée Westbrook). “Shelter” is back in a new and expanded version. This moving and thought-provoking one woman show follows Davina as she negotiates being Black, Lesbian, Middle Class, and homeless in downtown L.A. Westbrook is masterful as she seamlessly moves between characters. Strong writing and compelling delivery grab your attention and hold it until the lights dim.
“Things That Go BUMP In the Night” (Circus Collective of San Diego) – Circus Collective of San Diego is not usually known for spoken-based productions. Their strength lies more in fabulous and elegant aerials. However, “Things” is a great mixture of quirky story, mild nightmares, and thrilling ring and ribbon work complete with hot pink workout clothes and talented cat burglars.
“Monsters of the American Cinema” is also about things that come out at night, but this stunning two-man show from Boy and Monster is about much more than what might be under the bed. Sharply written and beautifully acted, ‘Monsters” follows 16-year old “Pup” and his late father’s partner, Remy, as they negotiate life as a White straight boy and Black stepfather, battling both monsters in the movies and the monsters that can haunt real life. Cleverly staged (working on a block) and well-crafted.
Mesa Moves (Mesa College)/ Bridging Spaces (San Diego City College) – a number of local colleges have some very fine dance collectives- with Mesa and San Diego City College being among the best. Both collectives are performing this weekend and you won’t go wrong with either one. The choreography is excellence, the dancers a joy to watch. The only change I would suggest is to coordinate movements so that everyone does the same move at the same time.
Ex Nihilo (Disco Riot)- beautiful, ethereal modern dance. Set to live music by versatile musician Johnny Tarr and audio recordings by the late philosopher Alan Watts who had a penchant for Asian philosophies, Zaquia Mahler Salinas’ flowing choreography is matched by the company’s excellent dancers. Surprisingly solid for a first show, “Ex Nihilo” suggests Disco Riot is a dance collective to keep your eye on.
REAL(ISE): (Tangata Circus Company) – The SD Fringe usually has a few international artists and this year is no exception. Word on the street is this group from New Zealand is the real deal, gorgeous aerials and all.
“Pig Talk” (Asian Theatre Collective) is fun, silly, and a tribute to The Year of The Pig. Drawing on various tales from around Asia, “Pig Talk” is a fast musical romp suitable for all ages.
CRAPSHOOT or Why I Voted For Trump: A Love Story– is a surprise. Todd Blakesly is a charming curmudgeon named Al whose joy at voting for Trump soon sets him at odds with his co-workers. A (not unexpected) firing launches him through the underbelly of American every person territory, learning, like Dorothy, sometimes the way home isn’t the shortest. A sly look at today’s politics-where Blakeley’s Al ends up will surprise you.
The Chameleon– a well-delivered and intense show. Much of the monologue and gestures are based on the documentary, “The Imposter,” the true story of Frederic Bourdain, a French imposter who successfully assumed the identity of a living, missing American boy for almost a year before he was unmasked. Geoffrey Ulysses Geissinger does an impressive job with the swiftly moving story, deftly timing the plot twists. However, the “French” accent is distracting. Having so closely studied the documentary, surely he could have also replicated Bourdain’s accent a bit more faithfully.
Intro(EXTRO)vert (Carlos Sierra) has some beautiful moments. The dancers move with gorgeous lines and the music is interesting. One of the issues here is lack of program notes- it’s hard to tell if it’s about a young friends’ group or one person’s issues with dealing with people. The other is the music and choreography- the music is interesting, but at times, it is really clear the choreographer is unfamiliar with the music style and the choreography gets a bit repetitive.
Neighborhood Watch– We all know her, that woman who has appointed herself the gatekeeper of the neighborhood, the self-declared curator of the block. Lisa Pedace plays a funny, increasingly unhinged busybody suing her neighbors in court. By the end she sounds like she lives in Point Loma or Orange County.
The SD Fringe keeps up its tradition with a not-so-secret Cabaret in which various acts bring a little extra to their time on stage. The show starts at 11 p.m in the Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theatre with tickets at $5.
Like short, really short fast theatre? This year’s Fringe continues its 24 Hour Thing tradition as well. Various playwrights have 24 hours to write, cast, and rehearse a short piece before staging it for the festival. This year, see the results on Sunday at the downtown Central Library at 6:30 p.m.
Still to come:
Per tradition, SD Fringe 19 will be announcing awards and the winners of the International Fringe Travel grants this weekend.