This is only my second year seeing Fringe Fest shows, but I feel like I’m already a pro at it. For instance, this year I didn’t get lost trying to find St. Mary’s Lyceum, and once I walked inside I didn’t think twice about the small bar filled with smoke and people who would rather watch football than a play and showed it by speaking to the people sitting right next to them loud enough that you could keep up with their entire conversation while watching the performance in the back. This is only slightly a negative; it makes the festival feel familiar and local, and it nice to be able to grab a beer before a show if you’re into that sorta thing.
The first show I saw was Are You There Margaret? It’s Me, God! downstairs at St. Mary’s, so I didn’t get to hear the spillover from the bar, just a little thumping from the show upstairs. The Rude Cutlet Theater Company presented a show featuring two actors standing before the audience and reading from their scripts, so I’d call it a dramatic reading more than a one act play. Margaret, the character from Judy Blume’s famous novel, read her diary out loud. We got to hear about her crush on the teacher, her obsession with breasts, and the first time she got her period. Her diary was filled with actual excerpts from the book and additions to make the material more modern and call out the completely inappropriate material that makes you wonder how this was ever an acceptable book for teenagers. God, the character from the Bible and seemingly some dimension where you can work your way into achieving deity status in this particular rendition of the character, answered Margaret with sassy comebacks and complete horror at the more yikes-worthy parts. Although Margaret could not hear God’s answers.
There were lots of good parts in this show. A lot of the material was funny, and certainly relatable to the ladies in the audience. The concept of looking at material from decades ago and pointing out how problematic it is really makes for great entertainment. However, many of the jokes felt forced or were delivered oddly. Sometimes I was cringing at the diary entries, sometimes at the missed attempt at humor. It seems like this play could be amazing if it was just cleaned up a bit. But they should definitely keep the hamburger bit. That was pure comedy gold.
Next, I moved on to a church in another part of the North Side for Voice of Authority. Much less smoke and beer (by that I mean none). When I arrived, I found Dean Temple, the writer and performer of this one man show, playing his guitar to the small audience. I thought he’d started early, but it turned out he was just performing his own house music. He used this to launch his show from the final song, which was a unique way of beginning the show. Temple certainly liked to keep the audience on its toes. The show itself was Temple telling a story, supposedly a true story of things that really happened to him, about how he went from the performing arts to making more money than he knew what to do with to being sued by the Department of Justice for $19 million and back to the arts again. This is all set up with the audience playing the part of therapist so he can talk his story and feelings out, often referencing the internal voice of authority that makes him make questionable choices.
The story was interesting, and Temple’s performance was well rehearsed. He changed mannerisms and vocals for the different characters that he was using, which helped to keep the story from being too confusing. It was still confusing, as it jumped around a lot and Temple’s high energy kept him bouncing around the stage. The lights were weird too, and the fact that they changed with certain moods and not others made it seem very avant-garde where I didn’t feel it needed to. If nothing else, the show was entertaining, and it was a story likely to be unique to everyone who hears it.
Back to St. Mary’s for Falkland: The War the World Forgot, and upstairs this time so the multimedia and actors of Tasty Monster Productions had to work hard to keep the audience’s attention on them. They succeeded, and I was completely drawn into this story that was based on true events of a war that I’d never heard of. Which was the point in the telling of the story. The company used film to show what was happening in the world during this war in the Falkland Islands in Britain, along with recordings of interviews and newscasts, and photos of the actual war and aftermath. There were two actors- one who played a sheep farmer and one who split time playing a young soldier stationed on the farmer’s land and also the farmer’s wife in other scenes. It was a compelling story, showing how the war affected not only those who were fighting in it but also the civilians whose land was compromised during this time.
Heather and Luke, the company founders and the players in the show, did an excellent job of story telling and portraying the different characters. It was easy to feel their anxiety and fear, and it was easy to find yourself rooting for these characters that you’d barely met. And the sheep, which we got to see in some of the photos. This show made me want to learn more about this war, and the trouble it caused for the natives of the island. And that should be considered a win for this company. It was a really nice way for me to close out my festival experience.
For more information about the Pittsburgh Fringe Festival click here.