Posts Tagged ‘st. lou fringe’

Con College
by Sam Rozier
Directed by Jordan Block
St. Lou Fringe Festival
August 20, 2021

Spencer Davis Milford, Sam Rozier
Photo: River Rat Productions
St. Lou Fringe Festival

This year, St. Lou Fringe is back to in-person live performances, running over one weekend after a slate of digital offerings the previous weekend. The show I’ve been able to see this year is a promising new work by a troupe of mostly St. Louis based artists, by a local playwright-actor who has set the show in St. Louis. Con College, which boasts a strong cast, seems to fit best in the “R-rated dark comedy” genre, although it has dramatic moments and doesn’t always seem to know how dark it wants to be. For the most part, however, it’s a promising new work with an intriguing premise and interesting characters.

As the story starts, we meet Davey (Spencer Davis Milford), who is seemingly content in his life as a brainy and somewhat smug Wash U student who spends much of his time partying with friends, smoking pot, and making money writing papers for fellow students. A phone call with his mom suggests there’s been some family drama in the past, as he refers to himself as “the good son”. Soon we find out more about Davey’s older brother, Jake (Sam Rozier) when Detective James (Alison Kertz) and Officer Rob (Jordan Bollwerk) arrive to inform Davey that Jake–who has been in prison for five years after robbing a jewelry store–has escaped. There’s more to the story, involving white supremacist gangs, the witness protection program, and Jake’s former girlfriend, Jessica (Caroline Amos), who has kept in touch with Davey and has been trying to move on with her life and free herself from Jake’s destructive influence. Soon, of course, Jake shows up and the plot gets even more complicated and we learn more about some of the relationship dynamics between Jake and Davey, as well as their relationships with Jessica, and Jake’s explanation for why he does what he does.

As the story develops, the comedy gets more and more physical and dark, somewhat reminiscent of the plays of Martin McDonagh, although not quite as dark or gory–although there are moments where it looks like the proceedings may go in that direction. Here, though, there is a strong dramatic vein that could stand to be emphasized a little more, leading up to a somewhat abrupt ending that maybe could use a little more build-up. For the most part, though, this is an intriguing story with some well-drawn characters who seem a lot more credible and less caricatured than in some broader dark comedies I’ve seen. The St. Louis references are nice, as well, if a little superficial.

Still, this is a play that has a lot going for it, with the relationship between the brothers–and of both brothers with Jessica–being the highlights. The cast here is strong, as well, led by the Milford as Davey, who brings a relatable likability to the role that is essential for this play to work. He’s contrasted by the also strong Rozier as Jake. Even though he doesn’t have quite the swagger and presence that the role seems to demand, Rozier brings a sense of boyish charm to the the otherwise destructive character that makes both Davey’s and Jessica’s devotion to him more believable. Amos as the conflicted Jessica is excellent, as well, displaying strong chemistry with both Milford and Rozier, and allowing the audience to sympathize with her plight. There’s also good supporting work from Kertz in the small but important role of Detective James, and Bollwerk in a dual role as Officer Rob and another important character who shows up later and is the catalyst for a lot of the darker moments of the show. This dual-casting is a bit confusing at first and it may help the play in future productions if these roles are not played by the same actor, but Bollwerk does a good job in both roles nonetheless. 

This is a fast-paced show with no dull moments, a strong cast, and a script that brings up some thought-provoking moral dilemmas in the midst of the increasing mayhem. Con College is a show that I’d be curious to see again after it’s had a little more development. As it is now, it’s a memorable show that works well in its somewhat rough setting, staged in a tent at St. Lou Fringe. I’m glad I was able to see it.


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St. Lou Fringe 2018

The St. Lou Fringe festival has come to Grand Center again, featuring two headline acts–one national and one local–and a variety of performances by an array of different local and national artists. It’s a celebration of the performing arts at their most quirky and inventive–or, at least, it’s supposed to be. I didn’t get to see as many shows this year as I would have liked, but what I did see was something of a mixed bag in terms of quality, ranging from top-notch shows, to shows that need work. Here are my reviews:

The Gringo (Local Headliner)

Music, Lyrics, and Book by Colin Healy

Directed by Colin Healy

Cast of The Gringo
Photo by Bob Crowe
St. Lou Fringe

The first show I saw at this year’s Fringe is a show that embodies a lot of the qualities that I have come to expect in a Fringe show–challeging, thought-provoking, timely, and inventive. It’s not a perfect show, but there’s definitely promise there, and the music and cast are excellent. Written entirely by local artist Colin Healy but taking place in Miami, the show is certainly distinctive, even though the sound balance and odd acoustics in the .Zack made it difficult to understand at least half of the lyrics. Still, there’s a story here, and some great characters, even if there are too many and some of their situations and relationships are difficult to figure out.

The Gringo is also somewhat of a baffling title, since it references a character who isn’t (and shouldn’t be) the focus of the show, and whose role in the show is confusing to say the least. Ishmael (Riley Dunn), who is white, is a wandering street artist whose wanderings have taken him to a mostly non-white neighborhood in Miami. I sort of get the initial focus on him in terms of portraying how often artists of color are ignored in favor of white artists trying to be “edgy” and getting celebrated as such, but still, the real focus of the show is (and should be) Kahlo (Alcia Reve Like), a famous artist who laments being treated as a curiosity at best by white tourists. The story takes place in the aftermath of the killing of local artist El Fantasma by police, and it follows the reactions of various people who were close to him, such as his brother Diego (Gheremi Clay), who is something of a “friends with benefits” type relationship with Kahlo, although Kahlo, along with Ishmael, decide to navigate the unpredictable world of online dating, which is how the two artists meet and form a tentative relationship, which further alienates Diego, who is wary of Ishmael but also gives him his nickname, “The Gringo”. As white “internet celebrities” such as @Sally7777777 (Janine Norman) discover Ishmael’s work and plaster it all over Instagram in a self-congratulatory “look what I discovered” sort of way, the rest of the neighborhood prepares to memoralize El Fantasma, Diego searches for answers and validation, and the somewhat mysterious Manni (Robert Crenshaw) occasionally appears expressing his animosity for The Gringo. There’s also popular drug dealer Molto (Omega Jones) and Kahlo’s friend Reya (Evann De-Bose), who have a tragic subplot of their own. The characters’ relationships and motivations are muddled, to say the least, and there are  simply too many plots to follow coherently. I think keeping the main focus on Kahlo’s and Diego’s situations would make the most sense, and while Ishmael has his moments, he seems mostly irrelevant by the time the story draws to a close.

There are some great performances here, especially from Like, Clay, Jones, and Norman, and the songs are clever and memorable, at least from what I could hear of them.  The look of the show is striking, with an eye-catching set (designer not credited in the program), art by Tielere Cheatem, and distinctive costumes by Carly Uding. The band conducted by Healy is excellent as well, as is the energetic choreography by Christopher Page-Sanders. The sound mix is uneven, though, and the story is incomprehensible at times because the lyrics of the songs were often drowned out by the band. This is a show with definite promise, if Healy could streamline it some and make a clearer focus on the more compelling characters and define the relationships and character motives more clearly. Overall, it’s an impressive debut, even though it still needs some work.

Race Cars and Romance (National Headliner)

Book by Klay Rogers, Music by Brent Rogers, Lyrics by Klay Rogers and Brent Rogers

Directed and Choreographed by Brandon Bieber

Even though it’s not a perfect show, The Gringo has a lot of potential and fares much better than Fringe’s national headline act, Race Cars and Romance, which is, frankly stated, a mess. Staged with much fanfare at the Grandel, this show just leaves me asking “why?’ on so many levels. Billed as a “family friendly musical”, it’s basically just a big collection of stereotypes, shallow characters, poor plot structuring, and a plot that’s so episodic it almost comes across as more of an anthology than a play–and not a very good anthology at that. I will say to start, though, that the performance I saw was a preview, and I hope the overall energy improved in the subsequent performances, but in terms of characters and structure, I don’t see how seeing one of the “official” performances would have mattered.

The focus is on an oil change shop in a small Alabama town, in which a collection of characters work, including new “star” mechanic Roni (Emily Trumble), who grew up in the town but spent some time working on the racing team of star stock car racer Chuck Champion, who is talked about a lot but never actually appears on stage. Another stock car racer and childhood friend of Roni’s, the clueless and somewhat vain Johnny Ray Ratchet (Ralph Meitzler), has been struggling on the racing circuit and is due to race at Talladega starting in last position, and needs his car fixed in preparation for the race. He brings it to the oil change, meets Roni, and… well, that’s all for a really long time while the play takes a break from their story to tell a lot of other stories that are only peripherally related to the main plot. It’s odd how much this plot is treated like an afterthought even though it’s supposed to be the lead story, as all the other characters are given their moments but not in a way that contributes much to the main story arc. We just get a lot of cliches and stereotypes, with some interesting characters but mostly a lot of filler, and excuses for songs that don’t advance the plot. There are some good performances here, especially from the big-voiced Trumble as Roni and Rachel Bailey as Roni’s friend, the romantically adventurous Louraine, who has a sweet but somewhat confusing romance with sweet-natured mechanic Pedro (Fredy Ruiz). Meitzler is fine as Johnny Ray, even though his character doesn’t have much to do beyond bragging about his racing prowess and inexplicably changing his mind a lot. The chemistry between the two leads is OK but not great, and there are some interesting songs but only one that really stands out–the plaintive duet “Lonely Lovers Game” for Johnny Ray and Roni, but the song is in the wrong place in the show, and it doesn’t do much to save the convoluted, implausible romance that doesn’t make a lot of sense in the long run. The cast does the best they can with what they are given, but they aren’t given much.

Techically, the show looks good, with a colorful set and costumes (production design credit is given to Klay Rogers). Still, as it is this is little more than a theme park show, and I’ve seen better shows at theme parks. Creator Klay Rogers gave an introduction before the performance explaining that a lot of the stories here are based on a real job he had at an oil change shop in Texas, but there are too many stories here and for the most part, this doesn’t work as one show. Maybe it would be better if he split the stories up into several different shows.

As a writer who sees myself as a fan more than as a critic, I try my best to be kind even when I don’t like a show, but I find that difficult with a show like this. The cast deserves credit for the effort, but the show itself has little to recommend.  I really hope Fringe picks something better to take center stage next year.

Now Playing Third Base For the St. Louis Cardinals… BOND, JAMES BOND

by Joe Hanrahan

Directed by Shane Signorino

The Midnight Company

From the always intriguing Joe Hanrahan comes a delightful show that’s part personal memoir, part history lesson, part nostalgia, and all fascinating. It’s a cleverly constructed one-man show from St. Louis’s king of one-man shows, Hanrahan, who narrates and plays all the characters as needed. It’s a lesson in theatre appreciation as well, along with baseball appreciation and an appreciation for the 1960s-era James Bond films, particularly From Russia With Love. 

Telling the story as himself, Hanrahan takes the audience back to his childhood in St. Louis during the storied 1964 World Series-winning season for the St. Louis Cardinals. He weaves the story of that team with reminiscences of his little league practices and what he refers to as his introduction to theatre–a recounting of the plot of the “new” James Bond movie by one of his teammates, Danny.  As Hanrahan, playing Danny, tells the story of the movie, Hanrahan as himself gives the audience background information about the film and also stories about that famous Cardinals team, St. Louis in the 1960s as well as the history of theatre, World War II and more. It’s a somewhat difficult show to describe adequately, but what it is is excellent. Hanrahan through use of his great storytelling skills and impressive use of video designed by Michael B. Perkins, holds the audience spellbound for about an hour. It’s a great show, and I hope Hanrahan will get a chance to perform it again in another venue. It’s entertaining, educational, thought-provoking, and an ideal example of the best of what the Fringe can be, along with the last show I’m reviewing.

Aphrodite’s Refugees

Created by Monica Dionysiou, Visual Art by Aaron Young

MonTra Performance

Monica Dionysiou
Photo by Bob Crowe
St. Lou Fringe

I was looking forward to seeing this show, after seeing and enjoying Dionysiou’s last show at St. Lou Fringe in 2015, the  Alice In Wonderland inspired “Paper Glass”.  Here, like in that previous show, Dionysiou combines dramatic performance with visual art, but now her story is more personal, taken from her own family’s story, and she’s joined by Aaron Young, who paints a picture during the performance, illustrating and augmenting Dionysiou’s narrated tale.

Dionysiou tells the story, weaving with legends of the Greek goddess Aphrodite playing a card game with Ares, the God of War. In between these segments, she narrates the story of her family on the island of Cyprus. The main figure in this story is Dionysiou’s father, George, called “Koko”, portrayed by Dionysiou along with his sisters Eleftheria and Andrula, and his brother Dionysus. Through personal recollections, they tell the story of the family throughout various conflicts involving the continuing conflicts between the Greek (represented by the Dionysious) and Turkish populations of Cyprus. It’s a compelling story, based on Dionysiou’s interviews with her family, and her portrayals of all the characters, particularly the determined Koko and the mischievous Andrula, are convincing and impressive. She also makes excellent use of sound effects for the “card game” sequence as Young impressively recounts the story with his painting, including elements of movement that add to the story and the overall drama. It’s a fascinating story, and another ideal example of the excellence and inventiveness that should be celebrated by Fringe. I’ve been extremely impressed by both of Dionysiou’s shows that she has done here, and I hope to see her at a future Fringe as well.

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St. Lou Fringe 2014

St. Lou Fringe 2014

Welcome to Part 2 of my “Notes From the Fringe”! Before I continue in reviewing the shows I saw at this year’s St. Lou Fringe, I want to add a few comments about the general atmosphere of the festival.  The “Street Fringe” in Strauss Park was a great idea. With various acts performing on the stage in the middle of the park near the Fringe Box Office, it provided a great “home base” for the festival, and a good place for patrons to spend time between shows. The Fringe Family events on Saturday and Sunday were a great way to encourage participation from patrons of all ages.  There was such a great overall atmosphere of artistic expression and mutual appreciation at the final party, as well, and I’m glad I was able to see even more shows this year.  The shows ranged from rough experiements to “works in progress” to polished, professional presentations, and while I enjoyed some shows more than others, that variety is really the essence of what makes a Fringe festival unique. It’s a celebration of the arts and of creativity in general.  I have high hopes for next year, and for the future of the arts in this great city.

Now, on to the rest of my reviews!

Core Project Chicago
Saturday, June 21st, 2:00pm

I have to give credit to this production for reading my mind, at least partially. I had never reviewed a purely dance production, so about halfway through the first segment of this show, in which the five primary dancers (Megan Beseth, Patti Garvey, Christine Hands, Kate O’Hanlon and Tiffany Philpott) danced an expressive routine with a classical music background, I had been feeling somewhat inadequate and wondering how I would review it. Then, after this piece, the words flashed onto the screen behind them to the effect of “Now, you’re probably wondering–oh shit, this is just another modern dance show!” I laughed, as did the rest of the audience. What followed was definitely not “just another modern dance show”, as the dancers presented very personal works while their pictures and stories were projected on the screen behind them.

Directed by Erin Rehberg and choreographed by Rehberg, Beseth, Hands and Matthew Frasier-Smith, this presentation impressed me as an ingenious combination of acting, dancing, and multi-media storytelling. The various routines ranged from the humorous (an ode to housecleaning, a celebration of individuality and quirkiness, a segment in which two dancers talk about their lives as they get ready to dance) to the more serious (a segment called “Dividing Line”, in which dancers jockey for position as they stretch before a routine, and another segment that highlights feelings of coldness and isolation). There was even a fun interlude in which the venue’s house manager was brought into the act. This struck me as a very personal, very current production that very cleverly integrated the dances with other forms of storytelling to create a very 21st Century presentation.

Foster and Fortitude
Cranky Yellow
Sunday, June 22nd, 2:00pm

This is quite possibly the strangest show I have ever seen. It’s a struggle to even think about how to describe it in written form, since this was such a completely immersive production–even more so than any of the others I saw at Fringe, or really anywhere else. It’s a play, but it’s also a concert, an art show and a rummage sale. Yes, a rummage sale. They actually stop the show in the middle so that the audience will have the opportunity to purchase the various knickknacks that decorate the stage, as jazz-influenced music plays and David Wolk (as Fortitude) wanders the space with a hand puppet, encouraging patrons to get up out of their seats and shop. I’m not sure what to think about this aspect of the show, although the overall “anything goes” attitude of this production is certainly impressive. This is is the kind of show in which a group of enthusiastic artists just keep throwing out more and more outrageous ideas, hoping that the audience will go along with their enthusiasm. In this case, for the most part, the audience did go along for the journey.

The essential story, inspired by Homer’s Odyssey, presents a story of an artist’s journey to find his lost creativity. Foster (the more subdued Jake Adams) and Fortitude (the outrageously energetic Wolk) are separated early in the story, and the initially reluctant Foster is eventually encouraged to chase after Fortitude in a quest that takes him under the sea, and through his own doubts and lost confidence. The audience is brought into the action as they are encouraged to hold hands and shout at Foster to awaken him, and the story continues through elements of musical theatre, jazz performance, guided visualization (and a funny song about a weasel) and finally, a chaotic celebration. It’s colorful, it’s ambitious, and the cast is extremely, infectiously enthusiastic. It’s more than a little confusing at times, but for the most part, it works. A Fringe Festival is the ideal setting for a highly experimental, hit-or-miss show like this, and I’m very glad for the experience of it.

Creepy Basement Players
Sunday, June 22nd, 3:30pm

Creepy Basement Players Photo: Kimberly N. Photography

Creepy Basement Players
Photo: Kimberly N. Photography

The Creepy Basement Players, a local improv troupe, were everywhere at this year’s St. Lou Fringe. Featured in various presentations at the Street Fringe in Strauss Park, including a hilarious turn representing each of the acts that were unable to appear at the Fringe Tease presentation at the Fringe Kick-Off Party, this troupe also got their own dedicated show. Players Alex Carnes, Melissa Darch, Steven Harowitz, Colin Katrenak, Ben Lyons, and Petey Papavlasopoulos performed various routines with prompting from the audience, both in a long-form alternating scene format and in a more short-form, improv-games format.

Improv acts can be very uneven, but the Creepy Basement Players are very consistent. I was especially impressed by their energy and focus, and some of their funnier ideas in their long-form sketch, which consisted of a series of unrelated scenes that cycled throughout the performance. The “literary gangs” skit, in which street gangs based on classic authors like John Steinbeck, J.D. Salinger, and Louisa May Alcott, threaten to engage in a gang war, was especially well done. The audience-participation aspect was handled very well, too, as they allowed audience members to choose settings for their scenes, and contribute variables for such games as “Home Shopping Network”. All the players did a great job of keeping up the energy and timing, holding the audience’s attention throughout and generating many laughs. They managed to carry the whole hour they were allotted, with no real lulls in the performance, which is an impressive feat. This show was the comic highlight of the festival.

John Clark
Sunday, June 22nd, 5:00pm

This production, by local writer John Clark, was the shortest production I saw at Fringe, although I think it used its time very well. Running at about 20 minutes, Olivia is a play told in interview format, as various friends and acquaintances of a bright, artistic young college student, Olivia Jordan, recount their experiences with her upon learning of her tragic suicide. This is a concise, well-written, intense production with some excellent performances and a strong story with a great deal of emotion that, commendably, doesn’t veer over the edge into melodrama. It also deals with some very timely issues in a clear, poignant and challenging way.

Clark casts himself in perhaps the play’s most difficult role, that of Olivia’s narcissistic, entitled, abusive boyfriend, Riley, who refuses to take the blame for his own heinous actions that very likely contributed to Olivia’s suicide. Clark does a great job of being so thoroughly unlikable but still a believably human villain and not an unrealistic, cardboard ogre. Other standout performances include Alicen Moser in a sympathetic turn as Olivia’s best friend from high school, and Sarah Griffith as Olivia’s self-doubting college roommate. This is a show that intrigued me a lot, in that I didn’t know much about it before seeing it, and I found it extremely affecting. It was a very simple production, staged with the cast members sitting in chairs and recounting their interconnected stories. I was also impressed in that the unseen Olivia was such a fully realized character, even though she only “appears” in the descriptions of the other characters. Although it did have the air of a student performance, I found it to be a believable and well performed production, and the biggest surprise of the festival in my opinion. Clark is a promising young playwright and actor, and he has assembled a strong cast in support of his play.  This whole production was very well done.

The Apotheosis of Big Jim
Tesseract Theatre Company
Sunday, June 22nd 6:00pm

Chris Williams, Jessica Alvarado, Jamie Fritz Photo: Kimberly N. Photography

Chris Williams, Jessica Alvarado, Jamie Fritz
Photo: Kimberly N. Photography

This is another production that epitomizes the concept of “experimental theatre”. Written by Tesseract member Taylor Gruenloh, it’s more of a straightforward presentation than something like Foster and Fortitude, although it still plays around with the traditional theatrical form. Overall, I think this was a well-cast, well executed production even though the format was not always easy to understand. It’s supposed to make audiences think, though, and it certainly does that.

Presented initially as a play about an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and its members’ unexpected common connection with a recently deceased local apartment complex owner named Big Jim, the show starts off as a traditional play and then changes course into a more absurd direction. The meeting starts with its members (Jessica Alvarado, Brittanie Boado, Jamie Fritz, Taylor Gruenloh, Alexander L. Hylton, Chris Williams) sharing their stories and eventually get into an argument when one character, Sarah (Boado), gets angry and challenges them, but just when it looks like she’s going to tell her story, Boado breaks character and addresses the audience, and then other performers follow, as the the story then shifts between the “serious” plot and the more existential quest of its performers, as they act out various sketches involving clown noses, audience interaction (with Laurell Stevenson and Jarris Williams lending support as “clowns” in the audience), which eventually leads to a staged rebellion against the very concept of linear drama and the roles they are forced to play.It all ends in an abrupt and somewhat jarring manner. It’s a well-cast and crisply staged exercise in dramatic experimentation that comes across as two very different plays transposed together. It’s a clever idea, and the cast performed with a great deal of energy and enthusiasm, although I did find myself wonder what exactly it was trying to communicate. It’s certainly thought-provoking, though, and perhaps that was the real point.

St. Lou Fringe Executive Director Em Piro and Fringe artists in Strauss Park Photo: Kimberly N. Photography

St. Lou Fringe Executive Director Em Piro and Fringe artists in Strauss Park
Photo: Kimberly N. Photography

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St. Lou Fringe 2014 was a wild, weird and wonderful weekend of daring, experimental and sometimes off-the-wall artistic activity.  This is my second year attending the festival, and while the event is still not as big and as well-attended as I wish it were, it’s getting there.  The sheer enthusiasm demonstrated by Executive Director Em Piro and the entire Fringe staff is impressive, as is the passion and artistry displayed by the various participants, from right here in St. Louis and from around the country.  I was honored to be included as a member of the Reviewers’ Panel at this year’s festival.  I managed to see 10 shows this year, as well as attending the Closing Extravaganza party at Fubar in Midtown, where I got to share my thoughts about the shows I saw and vote for my own favorite (noted below).  It was a great experience, and I have high hopes that next year’s Fringe will be even bigger, bolder and better.  Here are my thoughts on the first five shows I saw:

A Goofball Rock Recital Grand High Productions Thursday, June 19th at 6:00pm

Ben Mankus, Joey Puricelli Photo: Kimberly N. Photography

Ben Mankus, Joey Puricelli
Photo: Kimberly N. Photography

Joey Puricelli certainly has a lot of enthusiasm. I saw his show, Total Nonsense, at last year’s Fringe, and my impression was that it had some good ideas and some funny moments, but came across as unpolished and a little confusing. This year seems to be in the same vein, but in concert form. In A Goofball Rock Recital, Puricelli takes the stage by himself for two performances, and with special musical guests for two more. The performance I saw featured Ben Mankus on guitar and vocals, with Puricelli singing lead vocals and playing a variety of instruments including jaw harp, harmonica, and tambourine (with his foot). As with last year’s performance, there are some good ideas here, and some truly funny moments, especially with Puricelli’s parodies of pop songs featuring various subjects with geek-appeal, like “The Legend of Zelda” video games (“The Fresh Princess of Hyrule”), The Hobbit (“Precious Confusions”, a parody of Alanis Morrissette’s “Hand In My Pocket”) and Homestar Runner (“The Cheat’s Exploding Head”, a parody of Katy Perry’s “Firework”). There’s even a lyrically clever literary parody with “Poe Folks”, singing about Edgar Allan Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado to the tune of The Eagles’s “Desperado”.

The original songs are, for the most part, cleverly written and have some fun ideas, but the vocals are uneven and although Puricelli is a likable guy, he doesn’t have a lot of presence as a performer. He also spends a lot of time reading the lyrics off of his computer. He comes across better when bantering with Mankus between songs, and the spoken/rapped numbers are more successful than those that are sung. He and Mankus work well together on some of the more interesting covers, such as a mashup of the Beatles “Hey Jude” and Outkast’s “Hey Ya” which is basically the lyrics of the former spoken/chanted to the rhythm of the latter. An obscure song from YouTube artist Lemon Demon, “The Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny”, also has its fun moments. Although the overall quality of this performance is uneven and unpolished, there are some genuinely good ideas here, and I think Puricelli’s best skill is as a lyricist who would probably be more successful writing for other artists. He and Mankus seemed to be having a great time, although the overall effect was more of two friends practicing songs at home rather than as a complete performance.

Nine/Sketch Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble with Leverage Dance Theatre Thursday, June 19th at 7:30pm

Rachel Tibbetts, Ellie Schwetye Photo: Kimberly N. Photography

Rachel Tibbetts, Ellie Schwetye
Photo: Kimberly N. Photography

An encore presentation of a show that was originally performed last year at the beginning of SATE’s current season, Nine/Sketch is a truly fascinating piece of theatre. Blending two separate works into a seamless presentation, each focuses on two women and their relation to one another. The first segment, Sketch (devised by Hannah Fischer) has dancers Keli Hermes and Erin Lane in various short situations emphasizing emotions, from quick poses punctuated by blackouts to longer sequences of movement. There is no music so the mood is set by the dancers and the lighting. This is an expression of relationship and emotion, with the fluid movements of the dancers and their expressions communicating a range of feelings from sadness to confusion to pain to concern and compassion. This presentation leads directly into the next segment, which features two women in what only can be described as a bleak situation.

In SATE’s production of Jane Shepard’s Nine, Rachel Tibbets and Ellie Schwetye begin the performance sprawled on the floor, each confined inside a chalk circle which is drawn on the floor, and each wearing a long, heavy chain around her neck. They are apparently prisoners of some nameless, unseen captors, who are made to seem all the scarier because we don’t know much about them. Of the prisoners, Tibbetts is initially the more confident one–the veteran who has been here longer, and Schwetye is the newcomer who has just arrived back from what seems to be a grueling torture session. The two remain on the floor throughout the play,talking to one another in sometimes taunting, sometimes insulting, and sometimes concerned tones, making up little stories and remembering old sayings to keep their minds off the brutality of their situation. With intense, fully committed performances from the two leads, this is a powerful and riveting performance that’s more than a little disturbing. Just thinking about the horrors these two prisoners are facing is unsettling, and both actresses convey the brutality of the situation as well as their ever-present humanity in the midst of the horror. It’s terrifying, nerve-wracking,and completely compelling to watch. I didn’t get to see this show when it was first performed, and I’m glad Fringe has given me the opportunity to see it. This is an unforgettable performance.

Nine/Sketch is my Critic’s Pick for Best of St. Lou Fringe 2014

Landslide First Time Puppet Theatre Thursday, June 19th, 9:30pm

Through a combination of puppeteering, voiceovers, music and projection, the First Time Puppet Theatre presents the story of Amelia, a 40-year-old woman with Early Onset Alzheimer’s Disease. It’s a highly emotional performance, focusing on images, sounds and feelings and although it can sometimes be difficult to follow, for the most part it’s an effective, moving story. It follows Amelia–portrayed by a puppet controlled by three puppeteers–as she emerges, birth-like, from a pile of clothes at the beginning of the performance, throughout her journey through the difficulties of losing her ability to care for herself, and as she rummages through old pictures and clothes, attempting to hold on to precious personal memories. Throughout the performance, images are projected on a screen along with short videos on a small TV inside a replica of a Victorian style house. This is all very stylized, mostly in a very serious tone, and again not always easy to follow, although that may be the point as Amelia herself is struggling with holding onto her memories and self-awareness.

This is a striking, unusual performance with probably the most expressive puppet I’ve ever seen. Even though her facial expression is fixed and incapable of actually changing, the careful manipulation of the puppeteers combined with the music and overall mood of the piece makes it appear as if the puppet’s face does change. Credit goes to the puppeteers and the puppet designer (Kim Wilson) for creating and operating such a fully realized character. It’s a unique, very emotionally affecting, even poetic multi-media performance.

The Next Dog King Jim Julien Friday, June 20th, 6:00pm

Jim Julien with "Saffron" Photo: Kimberly N. Photography

Jim Julien with “Saffron” in Strauss Park
Photo: Kimberly N. Photography

In the history of humans’ relationship with dogs, who is really in charge, and what do the dogs really think about their human companions? These questions are among those explored by Asheville, NC artist Jim Julien in his mixed-media presentation that features Julien playing several human roles in addition to providing the voices for the three puppets representing the dogs. In one of the funnier sequences in the show, Julien starts off portraying the death of Grendel, King of the Dogs, through the use of an articulated cut-out “acting” against a white board representing grass. Grendel then sprouts wings and ascends to heaven, precipitating the need for another dog to take over as King. What follows is a somewhat disjointed presentation in which Julien, portraying a professor or lecturer of some kind, talks from an academic perspective about humans’ relationship with dogs. Meanwhile, in a parallel story, the dogs prepare to choose a new King, with the prime candidates being Bolan, a young mixed-breed dog who loves his human companion, and Yuan Shao, a purebred dog who is proud of his lineage and has a great distrust of humans. Both of these dogs vie for the attentions of Saffron, who was essentially Grendel’s Queen (“his bitch”, in her words), and who presumably will be the new King’s mate as well. Julien also portrays Bolan’s owner, who shows a mixture of affection and confusion in relation to his dog.

Overall, this was an entertaining production, if a little uneven and confusing at times, with an over-emphasis on the lecture aspect and not as much focus on the dogs, whose story was the most compelling aspect of the piece. I think there could have been more backstory about why the dogs have a King and what the King does, and why it has to be a King and not a Queen, as well. Julien’s donning of a hat that reads “DOGBRAIN” whenever he’s speaking for the dogs is a clever device, and he does a good job of providing distinct voices for the dogs. The story drags on a little long, though–especially in the lecture sections, and the transitions between scenes were a little choppy and confusing. Overall, though, I think it’s a good idea and I hope Julien continues to develop it and polish the presentation.

Trial By Jury Act Two Theatre Friday, June 20th, 8:00pm

This is basically “Gilbert and Sullivan meets Divorce Court”. Adapted from one of Gilbert and Sullivan’s more obscure operettas, with additional music and arrangements by David Phillips and additional book and lyrics by Phillips and Sean Green, this production updates the setting of the original to modern day reality TV. For the most part, it’s a clever and often hilarious production with a great deal of audience participation, broad characterizations, and excellent singing. Portraying a trial for “breach of contract of marriage”, the show depicts an overly involved Bailiff (Harry Pickup), a moody jury and an Elvis-like Judge (Robert Michael Hansen), along with the much-vilified Defendant, the romantically conflicted charmer Eddie (Omega D. Jones), and the adored Plaintiff, the pageant queen-like Angelina (Brittany Kohl Hester), who is being wooed by both the Judge and the Bailiff in the midst of the trial. There are many pop-culture references and a very energetic ensemble, as well.

The stand-out performances here were from Hanson as the egotistical Judge, Pickup as the deep-voiced, overzealous Bailiff, and Jones as the smarmy Eddie, displaying an extremely strong tenor voice. Kohl Hester as Angelina and Shannon Slavik as the Jury Foreman also gave strong performances, with impressive voices and good comic timing. Kevin Hester as the Plaintiff’s Counsel gave a fine acting performance, although his singing wasn’t as strong. This performance, aside from the singing, is most notable for the very strong use of the audience participation elements, including in the amusing finale. The Judge even gave me a scarf as I was sitting in the front row.  The staging was kind of chaotic at times, but the overall performance was mostly a lot of fun.

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Em Piro at the 2014 St. Lou Fringe Press Preview

Em Piro at the 2014 St. Lou Fringe Press Preview

The 2014 St. Lou Fringe Festival opens this week after much planning and visionary thinking by Executive Director Em Piro and her team. Piro, who is originally from Seattle, is a St. Louis University graduate and veteran performer and director with various local theatre companies, including New Jewish Theatre, Upstream Theatre, and Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble. With an energetic personality and love for the performing arts in many various forms, Piro is both a visionary and an entrepreneur, having founded the Fringe Festival and then  managing  its growth and momentum over the past three years. I met with her at a cafe in Grand Center a few weeks ago to talk all things Fringe, focusing mostly on her thoughts about artistic development and the Fringe’s role in the revitalization of the city of St. Louis and its various neighborhoods. Here are some highlights of our conversation:

Michelle–How did the Fringe develop?

Em–[My friend and fellow former SATE member] Dianna Thomas and I had been producing a small theatre company together, GlassMonsters, a very almost anarchist, DIY, grassroots, interactive [project]. We just wanted to do this kind of more guerrilla style theatre. But then she and I had talked a lot about, what if we do this festival thing? We need some kind of setting where these artists can collaborate together. Theatre companies can produce together in this critical mass of activity, with tons of shows going on, and then patrons could easily find them. Then patrons will meet these artists, or meet these theatre companies at this event and then go and see them throughout the year. Well, there’s a lot of infrastructure that goes along with that, which is one of things I’ve learned. And the other thing that I’ve learned is the potential that this holds for having a really tangible impact on building the cultural identity of our whole city.

M–So, you found a lot of people quickly that wanted to do this with you? You seem to have a pretty good team.

E–Yeah. I kind of just roped people in. And there’s definitely a constant influx of people who are kind of fascinated by this work,. It’s hard because it’s still all volunteer. So, there’s only so much that people can do with only so many resources, and so much time in the day and so much experience themselves. It’s a very complicated network to work within, and there are just different ins and outs and personalities and ways that neighborhoods work that you kind of need to understand. You can have a wonderful thing happening, but if no one knows about it, it’s pointless. And then if the people who are involved aren’t really clear on what they’re doing, it’s pointless. So there’s so many intricacies and, this is why things like this don’t happen all the time.

M–The one thing that I found myself wishing last year was that it were bigger, and that you took over this whole neighborhood and there were people everywhere.

E–I know. And that’s what we want to see happen. It’s remarkably difficult. And it’s funny because, we’re tied in with all the Fringes from around the country, and we bring up this question all the time about marketing, and for a lot of other Fringes, it’s kind of a non-issue. I really think this is a St. Louis thing. There is not a culture of patronage here the same way that there is in other cities. There’s not really an impulsiveness about going to events. People don’t tend to go to new things that they haven’t heard of before unless a hundred of their friends are going. And we’ve had an incredible amount of publicity. There’s still not a central course of information. Even though this word is starting to percolate, there’s still a real challenge to get people from thinking “that sounds interesting” to “I can’t miss this”. But that’s the story of the game for every theatre company in town. There are so many shows that happen that should be sold out, and they’re not.

M–I’ve been to plays where there were only about six people in the audience.

E–Yeah. I’ve seen stunningly beautiful pieces of theatre where there’s only six people in the audience. There are things with just the overall communications structure for our city. It still is a very segregated city, and people are so afraid of feeling out of place. And so for some people, even if they want to go to a show, it’s like, well, will I fit in there? For some people, they make that first step of “I want to go see a play. You know it’s a little bit outside of my norm.” Because, you know, when people go to theatre here, when they’re growing up with it, they typically go to the Fox or the Muny. Maybe the Rep.


E–And so this whole world of mid- or small-sized theatre companies is outside of their paradigm. They don’t even know about it. So, let’s say they do make the decision, like “Oh, yeah, I do kind of want to see a show.” Where do they go then? And if you’re in the network, you can say oh, you can go to KDHX, or you can go to ArtsZipper, or you can go to this, but if you’re the average patron who’s not already networked into that world… I’m in the world, and it can be hard to find what’s going on. I do think there is a need for centralizing a cultured patronage, and I think that our Fringe will grow. I think it really will get to be that point where the whole neighborhood is full all weekend, and every show is sold out.

There’s just a lot of work that needs to be done to build that patronage, and just let people know that they can come here. This area [Grand Center] still carries a stigma, so we always have to fight that. Something we’ve learned too is that “if you build it, they will come” is a false notion.. Our first year we booked all these street performers, and we had all these activities going on in the streets, and there just weren’t audiences there to take it in. And then the performers feel insecure. If you’re a performer performing for no audience, it’s not the same. And it’s not what people are performers for.

M–That’s how I feel when I’m at a play and there are only 5 or 6 people in the audience. I wonder what the actors think.

E–Yeah. I mean, for me, even an audience of one is a valuable audience, but an audience of none is kind of tough. So it’s been a balancing act for us.

M–So did you have to scale back some for the second year?

E–We did. Well, we just were smarter about it. We’ve streamlined it. So for example, instead of trying to fill up our whole grounds, we’re doing more programming at key foot traffic times in Strauss Park.

When people go to the Fox, they valet or they park in the garage, they walk in and they walk out. It’s just not in people’s vocabulary [to stay]. It’s nothing wrong, but it’s going to take a lot of education to train people, and teach them, you can duck into a new place. You can check out something new and different. You don’t have to just come [to a show] and leave. Even five years ago in this neighborhood, there wasn’t as much going on as there is now, so you can’t blame people. It used to be there was nothing to do, and so that’s why that behavior developed. But people are slow to change, so teaching them that you can wander the neighborhood, you can bring a lunch, you can stay in the park, you can stay with friends and things like that, is going to take a lot of patience and education.

M–What goes into organizing everything?

E–(Laughs) How much time do we have? (More laughing) It’s a huge effort.

M–Does it basically take the whole year to plan for the next one?

E–Yeah. Just take the festival itself. On the production end of things, there’s recruitment, there’s applications, there’s processing applications, there’s communicating with all of the people who apply to make sure that they have the right expectations of what they’re going to be presented with when we come to the festival. There’s building production teams. There’s contracting with six venues. There’s staffing those venues. There’s building schedules, seeing how many shows you can accommodate with how many performances. Then with those shows, collecting technical information, and assessing all the technical information for all 35 shows, to see which venue they’re going to be the strongest fit in. After that, making sure the performers have the skills they need to be successful. So coordinating a professional development series is something we’ve introduced. Raising money is also a huge part of it. It costs about $100,000 to produce the festival. It’s a pretty massive endeavor. There’s just gaining trust from the community, and with other arts organizations and theatre companies, and building trust and friendships.

M–It seems like it helps to have this outgoing personality that you have.

E–(Laughs) I don’t think it hurts. And one of the biggest challenges is just having the name “Fringe”, which is advantageous because we have an international network, and so they know exactly what that means. But it’s a new term for our community. There’s a lot of just following up with people, and talking to them and explaining the bigger significance of [it], like, yes this is a theatre festival. It’s fun, it’s quirky, it’s exciting, but it also has the potential to have a tangible impact on the quality of life for people in St. Louis. And I want to see this wonderful, beautiful, historic city be healthy, and to break down some of those socially perceived barriers, and some of those economic barriers, and some of those artistic barriers, and all of that.

M–Going back to your background for a minute, you’re talking about the city and you grew up in Seattle, but you’ve always had a St. Louis connection. How did you end up in St. Louis?

E–I ended up going to school here [at SLU] and I’m so grateful for it. I grew up in a city that very kind of naturally is conducive to the arts, and to the point that it can be pretentious, and St. Louis is a city that has survived such incredible strife, and continues to battle that. And it’s a city of many different viewpoints, and many different personalities. It gave me such a broad perspective of humanity. And I think if I had gone to some little swanky liberal arts school, or stayed on the West Coast or anything like that, I can’t even imagine who I would be.

M–Or if you’d gone to New York or something.

E–Yeah. And there’s things that are very exciting and attractive about communities like that, but there is a modesty that I have been faced with and had to learn being here, that I feel like has made me a better person.

M–What struck me about St. Louis when I moved here, coming from the East Coast [the Washington, DC area], where everybody is rushing everywhere and everything’s a lot more guarded, is that everything is a lot more laid-back here. And not as polished.

E–Exactly. And there’s something that’s very exciting to me about that. It’s a city of opportunity. It’s a city where you can really be yourself. And to me, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. You can be in a city like New York or Chicago or Seattle that already has this strong arts community, and St. Louis has that strong community–it is all potential. All of the pieces are there. All of the puzzle pieces are there. They’re just not in the right order. And so all it takes is a few people to really be like “you talk to this person” and “what do you think about doing this?’ And people, I think, are so grateful to see healing happen. It’s a good city with good people.

M–This seems like something that seems to be geared a lot towards appealing to the younger generation. I’ve noticed that some theatre companies, like the Rep, in St. Louis seem to draw older audiences and others draw younger audiences. Are you trying to bridge the different elements of the theatrical community?

E–I think that we actually draw an incredible spectrum. I mean, this year in the festival, we’re going to have a super left-wing political theatre piece and a super right-wing political theatre piece.


E–Yeah. And I can’t speak to the quality of either of those. I haven’t seen them. I don’t know them, but I think the fact that they can be in the same setting, each with their own voice, is a really incredible thing. You know, we have companies that formed to do the Fringe Festival, and we’ve had companies that have had a hundred seasons under their belt. We had a company last year that was a septuagenarian producing a show about the Civil War. And our audiences, they’re not as mature I’ll say as the Rep and things like that, but it’s not just a bunch of twenty-somethings. I think the Fringe is becoming what we really want it to be, which is a central watering hole for people who love culture, whether they’re 20 or whether they’re 80. I think that the thing that is unifying is because it’s vibrant, and it’s passion-fueled. And I think people of all ages and backgrounds appreciate that and are grateful for it. And we had people from the city, we had people from the county. We had people from pretty much every age bracket. It’s incredible how many more people every year just kind of come out of the woodwork. You know, people you never would have known were theatregoers.

M–You basically have a range of people and ages and backgrounds and income levels.

E–Exactly. We try to keep things accessible, so we hope that some of the folks that have capacity appreciate the low ticket prices and the accessibility, and will choose to support the festival, because it is an expensive venture, but it’s important to us to be a unifying center that remains accessible.

M–So, what’s new this year? Are you doing anything different, or is it just the same but bigger?

E–We’re actually doing a couple things. I think there’s four big things. Our box office is going to be outdoors this year. It will be in Strauss Park, so hopefully… Because the last couple of years, like you said you wouldn’t see a lot of activity on the streets, but there could be hundreds of people on the grounds. They would just all be in venues, or in restaurants. At most Fringes, it’s like a film festival. At most film festivals, there’s not like people flooding the street. There’s people in venues and in shows, and when you’re out on the street you see maybe like a hint of it here and there. But we have found that people want that kind of vibrancy, so we’re focusing more of our outdoor programming into Strauss Park, which is a little bit more of a manageable footprint for us. It will be like a central place where everybody knows to go, to then tentacle out to wherever else they want to go. And then once they’re done with that, they can come back.

M–It can kind of be like a combination box office and sort of gathering spot.

E–Yeah. And we’ve tried to do that in the past, but people haven’t identified with it that way. It’s been in a vacant storefront, so I think people were like “Oh, am I supposed to stay here, or am I not?” This will be designed with performers and things like that, so people will know, “oh OK, I can stay”. There’s patio furniture and everything. So that’s one big thing.  And we’re doing a partnership with the Gateway Burners, so they’re going to be building structures and stuff on the grounds as well, in that park.

M–What is the Gateway Burners?

E–It’s like the local chapter of Burning Man. They do big beautiful installations. They all kind of like just pop up and come down, you know, they’re not permanent. So, that’s going to be sweet.

M–So is that going to be in that same area?

E–Yeah. It will be at points along all of our grounds, mostly in Strauss Park but then maybe you’ll see a pocket here and a pocket there,just trying to create this kind of magical world. We’re adding a new venue this year, so that’s big news.

M–And where is that?


M–And that’s right by where all the stuff is going to be happening in the middle anyway.

E–Exactly. It’s a perfect location. We love KDHX. They’re so aligned with us in terms of mission, and it meant that we were able to add five additional shows this year. We’ve added five local companies, so instead of 30, we have 35 companies this year. And then the third is that a big part of our festival is community building. Our tagline is “Brave Artists and Bold Audiences”. We want those artists to connect with each other. We want the audiences to connect with each other. We want the audiences and artists to connect. And so, we’ve had After Parties every night for the last two years, and the people have been like “well, maybe I’ll go and maybe I won’t”. We really want people to go, because people who play together work together well. It’s part of building a community and making new friends. It’s really important. And we want to create an accessible walking environment for that. So, we are really trying to focus on meeting people’s needs and what they want from the special events and the After Parties and things like that. We have parties Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Also, in the past we were Thursday to Monday, because Monday is the traditional dark night, so we were like “oh, we’ll have this big closing party on Monday”. But then everyone was, what we say, “Fringe fried”, so they didn’t really want to come on Monday. So we’re actually moving it so we’re going to have the big opening kick-off on Wednesday. There are no shows on Wednesday, but we’ll have a big party in Strauss Park, and then people can plan their whole festival weekend at that party. And then Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday day we’ll have shows and then Sunday evening we’ll have a closing ceremony. So we’re learning as the years go on, and trying to build the festival in way that will complement everything and do everything it needs to do. I’m excited about all those things.

M–Yeah. What about future plans? Do you have any thoughts of where this is going in the future?

E–What I really want to see happen starting next year.. we’re still building our capacity, and we would love to be able to support a staff person to be able to do this year-round. We’d love to be able to support two staff people to do this year round. Because you can just do so much more when you have someone who can really dedicate their attention to it.

M–How big is your team?

E–It’s all volunteers. When people are available, they help. But one of the things that we want to get into in the next season is off-season producing. There’s a lot of logistics there that we don’t have yet, that we need to work out. But I think it’s the natural next step. It’s like we have this festival that’s a big smorgasbord of activity, that’s open access and everybody can come and do whatever they want, and then from that we can curate people who we think demonstrate particular artistic integrity, particular professionalism, who we think are good reflections of the cultural voice of the city that we want to see more of.

M–OK, that leads to my last topic. You’ve actually answered this a little bit here and there, but what are your overall thoughts on the St. Louis theatre and arts scene?

E–I think it’s an incredible and vibrant and passionate community. I think the community is at an 8, which is great. I think it can be at a 12. I think a lot of that is just giving people permission.  I think there needs to be a lot of support of people’s creative ventures, and there’s some. I think there could be more, especially when it comes to risk-taking. To me, if the art doesn’t take a risk, it’s boring. For me. That’s just one person’s opinion. But for me as a patron and an artist, that’s something I want, so it’s something I try to support with my words, actions, resources, money, whatever. I also think, as we talked earlier about, we could have a much more centralized access point for patrons. So if you have someone who says on a Thursday night, or a Friday or Saturday or whatever, “you know, I want to go see a show tonight”, that we have a way for them to do that, and just go. I think that’s how you build new audiences and patronage. Of course the Muny, and Shakespeare Festival St. Louis, and the Fox, they grow every year because they’re household names.

M–Yes. And it’s not like a city like London or New York where there are over 30 different shows playing every day and you can just go pick one.

E–Right. We were talking about New York, and there’s a central ticket kiosk where it’s like “I don’t know what I’m going to see, but I’m going to come here, and that looks like a good thing, I’ll see that.” It’s like a menu. We don’t have that. It doesn’t exist. So I think that is a huge next step that we need to take as a community–figuring out how to share those audiences, how to have that open conversation with audiences, how to work with the media, and how to work with the infrastructure, the neighborhoods, to build that culture and community for everyone.


 For more information about the 2014 St. Lou Fringe Festival, including a schedule of programming, check out the St. Lou Fringe website

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So, I went to the Fringe last weekend. The St. Lou Fringe, that is. It’s the biggest theatre festival in St. Louis, having just finished its second year under the direction of  Executive Director Em Piro and a large crew of staff and volunteers, involving many local theatre companies and some from around the country, as well as dance, live music, after parties, family activities and more.  There was a lot going on in Midtown, but I only managed to see a small portion of it. One of the thoughts I had after attending was that I wish it were bigger, and with all the creative energy and enthusiasm of all involved I’m sure it eventually will be. Still, for an event only two years into its life, it’s an impressive venture, with many different acts on a schedule spread out over four days in Midtown.


I only managed to see five shows this year, but I was able to see such a variety of styles on display in just those few shows.  The quality of the performances and the overall atmosphere makes me want to see even more shows at the festival next year, and maybe attend a workshop or after party.  There’s so much to do at the Fringe for all ages, and it was fun to participate even in a small way.  Here are my thoughts on the shows I saw:

Total Nonsense

by Joey Puricelli and Zach Paule

Directed by Joey Puricelli

Grand High Productions

This production was the least polished of the shows I saw at the Fringe. The title is descriptive, as there was very little sense and a lot of rapid-fire jokes, some landing and some not.  That’s part of the nature of experimental theatre, though, and there were some interesting, funny things going on here.   The cast, led by co-author Joey Puricelli as Skitz O. Frenic, whose house and mind are the setting for the action, made a good effort and displayed a strong sense of enthusiasm, even though some volume and enunciation issues occasionally made some of the dialogue unintelligible (and this doesn’t count the intentional gibberish that is part of the performance). I especially liked the use of music in the scene breaks. Overall, it was an interesting performance with a plot that’s difficult to describe, but performed by an enthusiastic ensemble.

Underneath the Lintel

By Glen Berger

Pat O’Brien’s Vanity Theatrics

This performance, a one-man show performed by actor O’Brien with more energy than I could have imagined, was a delight from start to finish.  Well-written, perfectly paced, impeccably researched and organized, the production tells the story of as a socially awkward, Dutch librarian who undertakes a life-changing quest when he becomes obsessed with finding the person who turned in an extremely (100+ years) overdue library book. This remarkable play made excellent use of slides from around the world and recorded music to establish the mood and tone of the story.  Issues of relationship, love, religion and regret are dealt with along this fascinating journey, and I continue to be amazed at the sheer range of O’Brien’s remarkable performance.  This was a real treat.

No Stopping, No Warping, No Dying

By Ed Krystoek

Directed by Peter Connor

1up Productions


I walked into the space for this performance as “ABC” by the Jackson 5 played over the sound system, in a bouncy instrumental version deliberately arranged to sound like it came from an  8-bit video game console.  The 8-bit video game-style music enhanced the performance and included various popular songs from Lady Gaga and others.  There was a clever set that resembled a giant Nintendo system that folded out to serve alternately as a couch, two chairs and a bed. This production told a compelling story that follows two childhood friends identified only as Player 1 (Charles Azkenaizer) and Player 2 (Gannon Reedy), who bond over video games, and Super Mario Bros. in particular.  The play follows the two players as they grow up, attend college, and encounter the various challenges of adult life, all the while constantly re-visiting their video game addiction while dealing life issues including religion, romance, jealousy, parenthood, responsibility and mortality. The performances were thoroughly believable and both actors displayed a genuine sense of friendship throughout the challenges presented in the show.  This was a truly heartwarming production that featured moments of real humor as well as some intense drama.

This is a Play

By Daniel MacIvor

Directed by Mark Kelley

R-S Theatrics

Hilarious, spot-on send-up of theatrical conventions, as three actors (Casey Boland, Beth Wickenhauser and Kirsten Wylder) put on an intentionally incomprehensible, derivative play about love, loss and lettuce while narrating their thoughts as actors. This truly hilarious production has a lot of appeal for theatre geeks like me, with its references to the dynamics of the actors’ relationships to each other, the creatives and the material itself, with mentions of such varied figures in performing arts as Tennessee Williams, Uta Hagen and Robert Pattinson. The production is spot-on in dealing with issues of differing acting styles, image and ego, technique, popularity, technical details and all aspects of producing a play. This was a delightful production with excellent comic work from all three players, and anyone who has ever been in a play would especially be able to relate.

I am My Own Militia, or Mea’s Unique Garage Sale

by Joel Henning Doty

Directed by Keaton Treece

JHD Productions


This thought-provoking, funny, engaging piece about a young girl’s struggles to make sense of modern society made clever use of various interactive elements (props handed out, texting) to enhance the performance and add to the overall atmosphere.  It follows the story of Mea (Sofia Murillo), a teenage girl who feels outcast from society, on her quest to understand her world and figure out which path to follow and who to listen to. Audience members with cell phones were further immersed in the story through the use of text messages sent during the show, ostensibly from characters in the play.  These texts in particular helped advance the story in a compelling way. Slowly, the various characters act as influences on Mea’s life,  the plot develops and you eventually see what’s going on.  It was fascinating to watch and ultimately very moving, with strong performances all around, especially by Murillo, who held the stage admirably, portraying all the character’s conflicting emotions and loneliness, as well as her strong personality, and made the audience genuinely care about her situation.  It felt like a fully integrated 21st century presentation, and I was honored to experience it.

St. Lou Fringe Executive Director Em Piro

St. Lou Fringe Executive Director Em Piro

Overall, I would say the Fringe is more than an enjoyable weekend, and even the word “success” seems inadequate.  It’s more than a success. It’s a living, growing, vibrant work-in-progress that celebrates not only the arts, but the revitalization of Midtown St. Louis as well.  I look forward to seeing what’s in store for next year.

For more information about St. Lou Fringe, check out the link to their website in the sidebar of this blog. 

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