Depending on how you are counting, tonight (Friday, Aug. 20) was either the first or the second night of this year's Indy Fringe festival.
While it was the first night for ticketed shows, the festivities actually began on Thursday, with the Opening Night Carnival. That event included an opportunity for most of the productions to make two-minute presentations in an effort to inspire ticket buying.
Most, alas, made a better case for not seeing their shows. Only a few, in my book, moved from a "skip" to a "maybe" or from a "maybe" into a "must see." Two winners, in two-minute form, were Shanna Shrum of Chicago, star of "Skinny Dipping--Not Your Mama's One-Woman Show!" and Orlando's Dewey Chafee and Douglas McGoech, offering "The Screw You Review." I now hope to get to both to see what these attention-getters can do with 50 minutes.
I appreciated the chance to thin the herd, though. At best, I'll be seeing nine or ten shows over the next few days (an out-of-town trip is cutting into my Fringe-ing this year) and so selections must be made.
For the first actual night of shows, I went with three, for varying reasons.
1. "The Four Food Groups"
Reason for picking it: I wanted to make sure that my choices weren't too conventional and a show awarded "Most Fringey Show" at the 2009 Cincy Fringe seemed a promising pick.
Reaction: Here's one where form won out over content. Using rhythmic, sometimes synchronized movements and mostly generalized dialogue, four appealing, well-rehearsed performers covered oh-so-familiar relationship territory (At one point, the four food groups are stated as "Loneliness, Commitment, The Gray Area, and Just Friends") in and around a dinner table. For a moment, toward the end, it began to turn into a lecture, but not one that fit the course that came before it. As to being the Fringiest show in Cincy, well, maybe our Ohio friends are shocked by actors in their undies and some "When Harry Met Sally" moaning.
2. "Not a Peep"
Reason for picking it: Sometimes, you go with your past experience with a company. In this case, a Fringe show from Indy's whenever-they-feel-like-it theater ShadowApe Theatre Company is an automatic must-see.
Reaction: It's wonderful when high expectations are satisfied (and then some). The gloriously fun main piece feels like "The Office" meets "The Ernie Kovacs Show" (Don't remember TV groundbreaker Ernie Kovacs? Then click here.) The clean-up-the-stage bit is inspired. And while the cell-phone piece is well constructed, its "message" comes across a bit heavy. Still, the impeccable cast (Jennifer Johansen, Constance Macy and Ben Tebbe) are inspired throughout and the entire show set the bar very, very high for this year's Fringe.
3. "Deep in Love/For Adults Only"
Reason for picking it: To hear Deborah Asante tell stories.
Reaction: The show (which changes with every performance) hints at ways that music, joke-telling, and storytelling can come together for an entertaining evening and I hope the show continues to evolve and find its ideal balance. On opening night, the keyboardist set just the right atmosphere and the emcee disappeared after just one (funny) joke. As for the star of the show, she was engaging and entertaining throughout, but her first story--a tale of lust set near the famed rural crossroads where Robert Johnson met the devil. Asante builds up a good head of narrative steam, but the tale fizzed in an uncharacteristic "Fried Green Tomatoes"/"Alfred Hitchcock Presents" ending. The story and the characters deserved better. Her second tale, about a lonely woman and her new pet, was more successful, with big smiles leading the way to a big punch line ending.
More Fringe on Saturday. See you there.