Day one of IndyFringe 13, the annual theater binge, which presents 384 shows in 8 venues scattered within or nearby Indy’s Mass Ave. Arts District, began Thursday. The festival continues through Aug. 25.
After thoroughly reading IndyFringe’s entire printed program booklet, which included show descriptions, followed by the seeking out of recommendations from knowledgeable theater colleagues, this writer chose three works to attend during his first foray into this year’s festival.
First up was the 6 p.m. performance of “de Sade,” at Phoenix Theatre which was produced by Q Artistry. A musical, the show was directed by wunderkind Ben Asaykwee (Q Artistry artistic director) who also wrote the book, which is based on the works of the Marquis De Sade, and composed the score.
Asaykwee was also a member of the well rounded cast that included Tiffanie Bridges, Jaddy Ciucci, Andrea Heiden, Danny Kingston, Logan Moore, Paul Nicely, and Sally Scharbrough— not only accomplished comic actors but fine singers as well.
Donatien Alphonse François (1740-1814) held the title of the Marquis de Sade. A French aristocrat, he was a revolutionary politician, philosopher and writer —infamous for his erotic novels, short stories, plays and other works which combined pornography with philosophical discourse, de Sade was notorious for his libertine sexuality.
The primary content of “de Sade” is excerpts from three of his novels — “120 Days of Sodom,” which deals with sexual abuse and torture, “Justine, Or the Misfortunes of Virtue,” which involves rape and orgies, and “Philosophy of the Bedroom,” that includes incest, sodomy and adultery.
Presented as humorous vignettes during which the actors employed broad physical comedy, the dramatizations were interspersed with cleverly written songs and dancing (such as the minuet) choreographed in the style of the period — all accompanied by harpsichord music. Notable in the production as well were its splendid costumes and wigs, coordinated by Rebekah Foster and Asaykawee. The show's make-up effects were also exceptional.
Sketches that drew some of the biggest laughs from the audiences included several about genitalia during which the actors recited all the common nicknames associated with each. As he has done in some of his previous adaptations, Asaykwee also incorporated contemporary references and hilarious asides from characters to the audience.
“de Sade,” which is a bawdy spoof of the philosophy of one who championed extreme freedom without regard to morality, religion and law, is precisely the sort of uncensored material that Fringers have come to expect. Though definitely not for children and adolescents nor those who are easily shocked — it is precisely because it is so unfiltered, outrageous, lacks boundaries and possesses a high degree of artistic quality that “de Sade” may well prove to be one of the biggest hits of the festival.
The next show I attended required only a short walk to the empty Babeca Building (donated for the Fringe by owner Larry Jones) at 919 N. East Street, re-christened the Babeca Theater, for a 7:30 performance of “The Rwandan’s Visit.”
A presentation of AV Productions in cooperation with Northern Michigan University, the play, written by David Sauermilch and directed by Ansley Valentine, covers a mix of topics including race, class, and authenticity.
The story focuses on two married couples Nora (Jean Childers) and George (Collin Poynter) and Tim (Woody Tan Rau) and Joan (Beverly Roche). The strained relationships between the individual members of each couple, and the two parties themselves, become obvious as they begin to engage each other during cocktails while sitting in the living room of the upscale apartment belonging to Nora and George. Soon, the alcohol begins to flow, tongues are loosened, true feelings are revealed and things get toxic in this comedy/drama that is reminiscent of Edward Albee’s “Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf.”
The script itself, which won an award at the 2011 Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival, holds interest, but the production suffered from flaws that included weak performances, flubbed lines and missed cues. Because the space was so intimate and the action so up close, small details such as the color (strawberry red) of the prop wine and a piece of sculpture that would shake precariously every time the actor sitting on a couch in front of it sat down or stood up — proved to be distractions. As the run progresses, perhaps some of these shortcomings will be adjusted.
The last show seen Thursday at 9 p.m. was “Stairway to Kevin” a one-man presentation starring Kevin Thornton, a singer/songwriter and author from Nashville, Tenn.
Thornton’s show was essentially a monologue intermixed with his appealing original songs, sung while accompanying himself on an electrified acoustic guitar. Thornton, who is gay, shared his personal experiences through the song/monologue format, which included stories and anecdotes about his fundamentalist Christian background, years as a Nashville musician and the band he once played and toured with, a trip to Patagonia where he frolicked with penguins, an around world-ship cruise which took him down the Amazon River, the Norwegian ship’s officer on that same cruise who asked for his hand in marriage, the loneliness of life on the road, marijuana, and a ménage a trois he was once a part of.
The charismatic, blue-eyed, 40-year old Thornton, dressed in black and covered in tats, reflected a stage presence that was striking. He also demonstrated strong vocal and dramatic talent and revealed both a clever sense of humor and poignant vulnerability as he narrated fascinating tales of his journey through life and search for purpose and meaning along the way.
Thornton’s show, which capped off an evening of diverse entertainment, was just the opening salvo of what promises to be a satisfying array of IndyFringe offerings over the coming days. Examiner.com hopes to attend as many as possible so look for upcoming reviews in this space.
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