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Indy Fringe 2011 part 1: A pair of gender benders

August 20, 2011

I truly had no idea which of the more than 50 shows I was going to see when I arrived on Mass Ave. Friday evening. And that’s okay at a festival where every 90 minutes there are seven choices.

Yes, I know, in my capacity here at IBJ I should be more deliberate about my picks. But one of the pleasures of Indy Fringe can be not knowing what you are about to experience. In this case, a conversation with friends I ran into at the Indy Fringe tent at Mass and College Aves continued as they walked toward the Phoenix Theatre for the 9:00 performance of “How to Kill.”

But not being in a particularly murderous mood, I parted ways with them in the lobby and, instead of going to the Phoenix mainstage, detoured to the Basile Theatre downstairs for “No Gender Left Behind.”

The program promised the story of a teacher fired from her job for being a transgendered woman and an exploration of the way gender roles are taught in America. Chicagoan Rebecca Kling, the teacher in question, proved a reasonably compelling speaker—although her story really concerned the loss of a short-term freelance gig and not what I thought had been a full-time job. Not that I don’t sympathize and believe based on the info provided that the termination was wrong, it’s just not the more dramatic story the program led me to expect.

The teaching tale is only part of King’s multi-faceted program. But the provocative questions and some startling statistical information got muddied with dystopian monologues about a “No Gender Left Behind Act” and an amusing-at-first screening of yesteryear’s black and white educational films and old Barbie commercials. Interesting, it was during some technical glitches that King shined brightest, suggesting that her talking points may have been more successfully delivered conversationally rather than in scripted form (I didn’t stay for the talk-back afterwards).

Gender is handled in a very different way in “Screw You Review: Déjà vu,” the 10:30 show at the Indy Fringe Building. Imagine a geriatric Archie Bunker not realizing his trophy gal pal (who has great legs) is really a dude who isn’t afraid to sing a little Kurt Weill.  Then mix in jokes that would make Lisa Lampanelli blush and you still may not be prepared for Wayburn Sassy and Didi Panache.  The pair had great fun mocking the air conditioning (or lack thereof), in the Fringe Building and nearly out-Ricklesed Don Rickles in their hilarious humiliation of audience members in a show that felt less structured and with fewer creatively turned put-downs than last year’s visit. Still, for the right audience, this is comedic heaven. Expect big crowds as the festival continues.

The Indy Fringe festival runs through Aug. 28. Details here. (Full disclosure: A play I penned is part of this year’s non-juried fest. I won’t be writing about it here.)

More soon.

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