Orlando Fringe Festival 2021 reviews: ‘Alchemist of Dreams,’ ‘Cross Country,’ ‘Fringin’ and Flagons’ and ‘Oscar Wilde and Jesus Christ Walk Into a Gay Bar’


Alchemist of Dreams
Orange Venue, $12

After several years of more intimate, autobiographical VarieTease shows at the now-demolished Black Venue, Alchemist of Dreams marks the dance troupe’s welcome return to fantastical spectacle in the expansive Orange venue. Choreographer Baby BlueStar plays the proprietor of an Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus-style emporium of lost hopes, forgotten wishes and dark dreams. Joyce Arbucias provides helpful scene-setting voiceover narration, as each VarieTease regular gets a moment to shine in the spotlight. Highlights include Jack Krieger’s delicate duet with an illuminated pole; a comical striptease from Tymisha Harris (who can earn applause just by doffing her mask), a hilarious dance of loose-limbed nonsense with Katrina Soricelli, and a fiercely emotional solo to Unsecret’s "Fallout" from Megan Boetto.

Putting the “variety” back in the company’s name are a brief drag opera and a Cirque-esque acrobatic sequence featuring a limber contortionist. But by far the most emotional part of Alchemy of Dreams was watching Blue pirouette across the stage again after enduring years of injury and rehabilitation. VarieTease shows are always a must-see at Fringe, but this year’s edition overwhelmed my heart with joy the way Carnivale did over a decade ago.

Cross Country: A Self-Help Musical Performance
Pink Venue, $12

An orphaned office drone (T.J. Washburn) and an underemployed ingenue (Angel Marin) seek liberation along America’s lonely highways in Cross Country, a tunefully touching dramatized concept album from writer-composer Dan Drnach and director James Honey.

Drnach serves as the troubadour narrator, observing as his unnamed characters struggle to leave behind hometowns that stick like tar, spend the night alongside strangers in anonymous motels, and finally arrive at their destined destinations. There’s not much depth to the plot, as the only obstacles the protagonists have to overcome are minor mechanical problems and their own inner monologues; but Drnach’s songs, which remind me of The Who and Green Day with a mellowing hint of CSN&Y, could be hit singles on alternative college radio (if that were still a thing). Fair warning: this show may make you want to leave Loch Haven Park, hop in a convertible, and take off toward California with the top down and radio blaring — which would definitely be a waste of your remaining Fringe tickets.

Fringin & Flagons
Yellow Venue, $12

Fringin’ & Flagons
, this Fringe’s second Dungeons & Dragons-based production, is challenging to review because it doesn’t feature a script, a set storyline or even a consistent cast. What this theatrical spin-off of Indigo Chameleon’s Twitch stream does have is a ton of imaginative “yes, and” improvisation that provides goofy good fun — whether you carry D20 in your pocket at all times or think RPG is an acronym for Rocket Propelled Grenade.

Less of a stage play than an hour spent watching skilled friends playing tabletop games, each installment of the show features Dungeon Master Billy McCoy verbally guiding a quartet of adventurers through mazes and monsters inspired by other Fringe shows. The twist is that, instead of your typical wizards and warriors, the rotating roster of players portray a heavy metal mage, alcoholic robot, failed fortune-cookie writer or some similarly ridiculous character class.

McCoy does a masterful job of keeping the silly story moving forward without letting dice-rolling game mechanics get in the way, making the action accessible to the uninitiated while providing plenty of in-jokes for D&D veterans to catch. Watching these plucky players outwit the DM to save the day made me want to high-five my inner 13-year-old; now, where did I put my Monster Manual?…

Oscar Wilde and Jesus Christ Walk Into a Gay Bar
Orange Venue, $12

Stop me if you’ve heard this one already: Victorian England's most notorious sodomite of letters walks into a theater looking for a friendly audience willing to hear his exquisitely sorrowful life story, or at least point him in the direction of the nearest gay bar. Long before there were Fringes to be fabulous in, Oscar Wilde was the original flamboyant artiste poking a well-manicured finger in the eye of the repressive society that both adored and abused him.

In this new musical by writer-director Donald Rupe (From Here), Trevor Southworth embodies the iconic author in a tour de force performance that’s both hysterically over-the-top and brutally honest, as exemplified by two Mel Brooks-worthy showstoppers mocking Christian dogma and the rules of homosexuality. In addition to those music hall numbers, Rupe has crafted a couple of tender ballads, as well as a defiant torch song that effectively brings down the curtain. Best of all, the book and lyrics were wisely strip-mined from Wilde’s immortal witticisms, which still elicit shocked laughter over a century after they were first written.

Oscar Wilde and Jesus Christ Walk Into a Gay Bar is an absolutely wonderful one-man musical; unfortunately, it has two actors. The performer playing Wilde’s young counterpart is simply overmatched by Southworth, and they share zero onstage chemistry. (It doesn’t help that he’s saddled with singing a series of Dear Evan Hansen castoffs that do his head voice few favors.) Add in an 11th-hour plot twist that reframes the entire show without providing any satisfying explanation of what we’ve actually been watching, and I went in less than an hour from short-listing this as one of the Festival’s best to anxiously eyeing the exit.

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