First Friday of Fringe!

vanlife-201801-3x3-webjpgThe New Vintage Ensemble presents #VANLIFE, written, directed and performed by Kimmie Leff and Casey Thomas.  Kimmie and Casey, two friends whose lives are less than perfect are becoming unhinged under the pressure of society’s expectations of them, or more concisely, their perceptions of society’s expectations.  They are exhausted from trying to be who they are or pretending they aren’t, for others.  This stress has led Kimmie to explore the #VANLIFE movement.  After watching hours and hours of Instagram and YouTube videos documenting the Millennial movement, what’s a hipster to do?  Kimmie acquires a van and convinces Casey to consolidate his possessions and begin the journey in a tiny house on wheels. This comedy sketch is brilliantly delivered, giving Tarantino’s 1990’s film dialogue a run for its’ money.

Kimmie and Casey ask themselves, what kind of person can’t post a picture of themselves without a filter?  What is your worth if you can’t edit a video, so the viewer doesn’t recognize the Walmart parking lot where you are camped? Will becoming an internet sensation be emotionally fulfilling?  Find out more about the struggles and strife of living the #VANLIFE and how social media portrays images that may not be how they appear. You will laugh at their self exploration, quite possibly recognizing pieces of yourself.

voa-poster-3x3Voice of Authority is written and performed by Dean Temple.  Temple asks the audience, ‘What do you focus on’? He asks if anyone in the audience is willing to give up anything and everything in order to reach their goal.  Then he presents the stone cold facts, some people are distracted by The Voice of Authority (VOA), something we all have. He explains, in case anyone does not understand, the VOA is the voice inside your head, usually credited as saying things like, “you can’t do thatâ€, or “‘what made you think you could do thatâ€??!

Temple then informs the audience, he is being sued by the U.S. DOJ for 19 million dollars and is basically broke therefore, we are his de facto therapist.  Through colorful narrative, Temple tells a story, often referring back to that VOA, which “always seems to know what it wants even if you don’tâ€.  He shares how he spent most of his childhood performing on stage but left the theater in his early 20’s to work for his millionaire uncle. The job does not end well and Temple finds himself unemployed, broke and facing a multimillion dollar lawsuit.  During the 2 year time span, he is being investigated, Temple spends a great deal of time with his friend Zachary, an aging world-renowned ballet dancer.  By listening to Zachary’s stories Temple begins to put his life struggles into perspective, except for the damned VOA which keeps him second-guessing every step of the way.  Temple contemplates how Zachary lived his entire life, in the face of adversity, yet managed to stay focused and realize his dreams and goals.

Temple’s story telling is captivating.  His look back at the life of Zachary is compelling and his anecdotal recount of legal problems and a life of wins and losses and delivered with a healthy dose of comedy.  After all, if you can’t laugh at yourself, then how can you laugh at anyone else. The VOA may try and harass you at your darkest time, but all a person really needs are a couple of good comebacks to keep truckin’.  Voice of Authority ends with Temple on his guitar inciting the audience to sign a long.

andrew-frank_origStand up comedian Andrew Frank is not afraid to talk dirty.  When I say dirty I mean the real stuff that stirs up audiences, gets them heated; environmental issues, politics, economics, religion and the size of his dick.

Frank begins his set, asking the audience to imagine, what if animals behaved as socially and environmentally irresponsible as humans. He reminds us, we are the only species which kill other animals to make nuggets out of them.  So, this is a silly opening and I think it’s kind of cute.  I have to admit right off the bat, I am not a huge fan of stand up comedy, I tend to zone out after a few jokes. I’m just not into it but Frank’s routine is not the standard, run of the mill, everyday stand- up act.  Funny? Yes, mostly.  Dark?  Certainly!  Introspective and thought provoking? 100% yes.  Frank’s got a somewhat reserved demeanor on stage, and I can’t figure out if this too is part of the act but he gives the impression he’s just making all this stuff up as he goes along, but his ideas are deep and real and will challenge your way of thinking while encouraging chuckles.  I don’t think there is any topic off limit for Frank and I am really intrigued.  Truth be told, I was uncomfortable, for a minute, listening to him compare the size of his penis to the galaxy, or the speed of light, but he turns it around throwing in a Tinder reference and manages to drag a few giggles out of me.  Frank doesn’t dumb down the audience, even in light of the anatomical humor, most likely, you will laugh.  Frank’s ambitious and smart.  He knows it’s good to find humor in what makes us uncomfortable.  It’s healthy to sometimes laugh at what frightens us.

28514724_10157160314724838_3180087440204844665_oKrish Mohan’s Empathy on Sale is my second stand- up act of the evening. I didn’t even realize I enjoyed this stuff, but when Mohan stands on stage and announces “we’re gonna dive into the weird esoteric shitâ€, I can’t help but laugh.

Similar to Andrew Frank’s routine, Mohan likes to explore the ‘heavy stuff’.  Starting off, he reveals he’s an immigrant with a Green Card and he’s the one who has been stealing all of our jobs; yep him, personally, driving around and throwing them into the trunk of his car.  Next Mohan decides what’s most important is for people to ‘get out of their bubble’ and listen to each other and learn from one another.  His series of anecdotes are honest and funny.  How does Mohan learn what a condom is, how does he explain to his aging grandmother that people are offended by certain English words or how do two people build a maintain a relationship when one is completely blinded by the media’s presentation of who is an immigrant?

He talks labels and education and God as a hipster, music, politics and the history of the United States.  Mohan is a funny guy.   His routine works.  He’s raising awareness toward social injustice and politics through his art of stand up and it works.  When someone points out all the idiocy around us, and can do it with a joke, he’s captivated the attention of the masses.

The 5th Annual Pittsburgh Fringe Festival runs April 7th and 8th. For tickets and more information click here.

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