Fringe stops for no woman, and today the train kept on chugging. After the high of yesterday’s performances, I was trying to keep my energy up, but I will admit that I was a little tuckered out. Still, I was eager to see what today held, especially since I would get to venture out a little more and experience another venue. At 11:30 I was led into the somewhat forbidding downstairs space at St. Mary’s Lyceum. One of my fellow audience members whispered that it smelled like a church, and it did have that kind of Sunday school basement feel to it, but the performance we were there to see was anything but forbidding and was definitely not Sunday school material.
What we got was Kevin and Ian: Too Stoo2id; A One-Man Show, a staged variety show with knee-slappin’ bits and surprisingly academic humor. Although this three-hand one-man show was stuffed with learning and some clever lines, the pacing and delivery prevented a satisfying landing. The biggest laugh from the audience was during the curtain call when the trio froze in their final pose and awkwardly stage whispered to each other when no one left. Ironically enough, it was the few scenes with gravitas that really showed off the cast’s acting chops, like Joan of Arc’s defiant declaration just before she is burned (or pied in the face) or Ian’s story of an abusive husband. Most of the time, the various characters we met just got overplayed. Shakespearean actor Edmund Kean said it best: “Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.”
After the awkward curtain call at St. Mary’s, I had about an hour to get something to munch on and make my way over to Alphabet City. I dropped by Crazy Mocha for a snack and then tripped back across the street to my next venue. The lovely space upstairs combining reclaimed concrete columns and rich orange satin curtains worked well for Kristin Ward’s Swan? Ward retells the story of the Ugly Duckling with a few new twists and gently coaxes the audience in to participate. In this version, Mother Duck knows very well she’s got something different, but special, and Essie, our ugly duckling, goes on a long journey to discover who she is and where she belongs. Ward’s quietly confident demeanor and infectious smile make for the perfect Essie, but she can deftly take on other skins with the switch of a hat. She is like a storybook come to life with a very timely message about finding what we have in common with strangers and welcoming new friends with different feathers, or maybe no feathers at all.
Then I needed to rush downstairs to see The Booth. The lower level of Alphabet City was the perfect performance space, tucking the audience into a conference room with close walls that made the whole room into a booth. Though it is the shortest production I got to see at Fringe, playwright Lance Skapura gives us a succinct, sweet, and uproarious story about two techies, the seemingly gay Robert (Bruce Story-Camp) and flighty, never satisfied Paula (Chelsea Forbes) along with their sexually frustrated Stage Manager, Athena Patel (Lisa Germ) as they run through a show. All three actors give a solid performance, but it is Germ who steals the show with her shy openness about her sexual experience and her struggles both wrangling together productions and her own life. Stage hands so often have to watch grand romances on the stage, but this time, they might get to have one of their own.
I returned upstairs for my last show of the festival, Sophia Mintas Live! Mintas, a voice student at Duquesne, entertains her audience with her own compositions, both for the piano and for voice, interspersed with stories from her life, some light-hearted and some heavy, though there is no clear, defining arc to her anecdotes. It is clear Mintas is operatically trained with a soprano’s range, but she strives for a unique blending of the high-form of opera with a bouncier, more modern sound. As I walked out of Alphabet City I knew that she and all of the other wonderful performers I have been lucky to witness this weekend have given me a lot to reminisce and savor on my drive back to Erie.