Arts & Culture » Performing Arts

BEER DRINKER'S GUIDE TO THE FRINGE

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If rain means good luck, as Fringe board president Barry Miller insisted at last Thursday night's opening ceremonies, then this Fringe is destined to be the most fortunate in the festival's 16-year history. The ceremonial parade of artists was a washout, leaving producer Beth Marshall (and the white horse she rode in on) stranded in the deluge.

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; Highlights included the chorus of boos that greeted Orange County commissioner Bill Segal for telling Patty Sheehan, "There's nothing wrong with the Bob Carr," and acerbic host Eric Pinder's sarcastic plea for the gay community to support "straight theater." By 8:30 p.m., the skies had cleared and Orlando's theatrical Iditarod was in full swing. The newly expanded beer tent is a massive improvement and shows how the Festival has grown up. More shade and ashtrays and we'll have nirvana.

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; Fringe is proudly "100 percent uncensored and unjuried," which means anyone can put up a show, no talent required. So the beer tent is the central depository for the two essential A's: advice and alcohol. The reviews below are just one man's opinion, so be sure to check the buzz before buying tix, and never be afraid to ask a stranger, "What've ya seen?" There's no such thing as a bad show at Fringe, if you've had enough beer.

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Zero- to one-beer shows: Best appreciated with a clear head and open mind

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;The Honeymoon Period Is Officially Over

Gemma Wilcox (London, England)

Pink Venue / 70 min. / $10 / MA

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; In a Fringe glutted with one-actor/multicharacter monologists, Gemma Wilcox stands out as the only one who essays a peacock, a hamster and a burning ember. Those characters come together in the story of Sandra and Michael's deteriorating relationship. As they visit her aunt and uncle in the rural U.K., it's all great fun: anthropomorphic chickens and BJ lessons over fresh-squeezed milk. But in the second act, darker notes – heroin, painting the living room – creep in. Limey accents make for difficulty delineating voices, and it ends with a whimper, but Wilcox is entrancing.

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; 7:35 pm May 24, 2:20 pm May 26

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;Jesus in Montana: Adventures in a Doomsday Cult

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;Aspen Comedy Works (Aspen, Colo.)

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;Yellow Venue / 60 min. / $10 / MA

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; "Cult" conjures many images, from Jim Jones to Rocky Horror. Barry Smith deftly uses home movies and clever PowerPoint to illustrate his true story of one cult I can guarantee you've never heard of. His journey, from the Mississippi Delta to Missoula, Mont., led him to an obscure Baha'i splinter sect that recognizes an elderly ex-con as the returned Christ. When he describes the "spiritual hangover" of waking up and realizing you've been calling an octogenarian pedophile "Jesus," you'll laugh like Buddha.

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; 7:40 pm May 24, 6:30 pm May 26, 12:55 pm May 27

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;Midnight Snack With Tom and Vincent

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;Kangagirl Productions LLC (Orlando)

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;Brown Venue / 60 min. / $10 / MA

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; What would you do if your long-dead love returned from the grave? Would you rejoice? Would you recriminate? Would you screw? Those questions face Tom, who crawls out of bed with his latest boy-toy to find his dearly departed Vincent munching Doritos in the kitchen. He claims he's Tom's guardian angel (sans "artsy-fartsy" halo), but what really motivates this afterlife excursion? Scottie Campbell's sensitive script obviously comes from a deeply personal place, and Roger Floyd (recently returned from L.A.) turns in a striking performance, showing believable chemistry between these men without sacrificing an ounce of testosterone. Though suffering an excess of cinematic blackouts, Margaret Nolan's sharp direction proves there's room for more than one kind of "gay play" at Fringe.

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; 7 pm May 25, 2:20 pm May 26, 5:10 pm May 27

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;Waiting …

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;Voci Dance (Orlando)

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;Yellow Venue / 60 min. / $10 / MA

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; Orlando's major industry is based around convincing people to stand in queues, so it's apropos that Voci Dance has chosen "waiting" as the theme of their latest show. Artistic director Genevieve Bernard and her dancers aren't going for obvious riffs on theme parks and bus stops; they are striving for something deeper, and with acclaimed poet Christa Bell, they've found it: waiting for love, for acceptance, for redemption, explored through propulsive rhymes and affecting choreography. The anti-patriarchal invocations of goddess-hood can be pointed, but are leavened with enough humor that we Y-chromosomers shouldn't squirm too badly. The finale – a satire on body-image obsessions – highlights one of Voci's strengths: These athletic artists are real women, not the waif-like clones that fill too many dance stages.

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; 9:50 pm May 26, 2:35 pm May 27

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Two- to three-beer shows: Enjoy with a healthy buzz

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;Bat Boy

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;Winter Springs Performing Arts

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;Purple Venue / 75 min. / $8 / GA

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; Ripped from the tabloid headlines, here comes the hideous Bat Boy, just looking for someone to love – or snack on. The Winter Springs Performing Arts ensemble, with an apparent median age of 16, tackles this quirky cult spoof with surprising success. Peter Romberg captures the physicality and soulfulness of the titular freak, Alexandra Hartwig is sweetly sassy as his protector, and the large ensemble aptly supports the big chorus numbers. This abbreviated version cuts deep (no Lion King orgy, dammit) and the backing music often overwhelms lyrics, but the faults aren't fatal. Hold me, Bat Boy!

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;8:10 pm May 25

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;Chipped Paint Productions (Vancouver, B.C.)

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;Yellow Venue / 60 min. / $10 / MA

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; The months I spent scraping plates in a summer-camp kitchen were the worst of my life, and Greg Landucci's monologue brought back all those carefully repressed memories. Gee, thanks! Landucci's tale of his season in dishwashing purgatory hits all the right beats: the river of garbage and grease, the miserable managers, the pothead line cooks, the hot-ass waitress with no gag reflex. Co-writer/director TJ Dawe's voice is evident, particularly in the rapid-fire character transitions, and the hypnotic mantra "sorting, stacking, scrubbing, spraying." Greg doesn't quite stick the landing, but on the way there, he makes the drudgery so vividly funny that you can practically feel your fingers wrinkle in the gray water.

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;6 pm May 24, 8:10 pm May 26, 4:15 pm May 27

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;Poofy du Vey in "Burden of Poof"

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;Courtney Cunningham (NYC)

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;Yellow Venue / 60 min. / $10 / MA

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; At the end of a 15-shows-in-50-hours marathon, Poofy du Vey did the near-impossible: She kept me awake, and she kept me smiling. The most neurotic clown since Shakes, this endearingly eccentric entertainer is what Fringe was built for. With her shy grimace, bulbous nose and sotto voce mutter, she shares with us her to-do list, her hatred of cleaning and her sweetly pathetic yearning for "something new." I fell for Poofy's cringingly self-conscious charms. So should you.

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6 pm May 25, 4:20 pm May 26, 5:55 pm May 27

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;So Kiss Me Already, Herschel Gertz!

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;Awkward Moment Productions (Minneapolis)

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;Red Venue / 72 min. / $10 / MA

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; Looking for a niche-market comedy full of uncomfortable stereotypes? If your demographic is more "oys" than "boys," Amy Salloway has a glatt kosher treat for you. Her memoir on the tortures of Jewish summer camp has enough side-splitting anecdotes about yarmulke macramé and hora-hoofing to make you plotz. And her story of 15-year-old heartbreak is universal enough to connect with goyim everywhere. Mazel tov!

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; 7:10 pm May 25, 11 am May 26, 2:30 pm May 27

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;VarieTEASE: Carnivale

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;BlueStar Productions (Orlando)

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;Orange Venue / 60 min. / $10 / GA

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;Two words: fucking mind-blowing. The razor-thin premise (a girl runs away to join the circus) is a hook on which director/choreographer BabyBlue hangs a breathtaking phantasmagoria of sideshow seduction. Stilt walkers, dancing girls (or are they?), even world-class juggler Matt Henry; a swirling sensory overload in the best three-ring tradition. This Cirque-meets-P. House bacchanalia is erotically charged without getting overly explicit. It's the rare Fringe show you'll want to see more than once.

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; 11:55 pm May 25, 8:05 pm May 26, 2:45 pm May 27

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;4-beer shows: An altered state is mandatory for full appreciation, or the show is too bad to be suffered sober

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;Chatterbox

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;Slothco Productions (Orlando)

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;Blue Venue / 45 min. / $7 / GA

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;When SAK vet Francisco Laboy stumbles on for his one-man improvised variety show, your first thought is, "This schmuck is doomed." He's plagued by a passive-aggressive sound tech as he introduces and embodies a string of absurdist acts – a Puerto Rican stand-up who does "Seinfeldo" impressions en Español; a magician with the world's worst card trick; a CGI ventriloquist with blue-screen sock puppets. It takes a bit to realize his air of incompetence is a sham, as he deftly skirts failure time and again with a self-deprecating smile.

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; 2:15 pm May 26

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;Heart of Coal

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;Carbon Productions (Orlando)

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;Green Venue / 60 min. / $7 / GA

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; My most anticipated show this Fringe, and my biggest heartbreak. On paper, it's can't-miss: Heather Henson's puppetry and scenery married to the issue of mountaintop removal in a dark fantasy. The puppet designs and music are fascinating; shame about the cliché-o-matic script and sophomoric performances. The King, a B-movie villain who would twirl his mustache if he looked old enough to shave, is abusive to everyone in town, especially his pink Converse–wearing brat of a daughter. They clash over the fate of their village, meandering to an abrupt climax that evokes little but apathy. I wanted to love this show, but I fear it's just a cold lump of carbon.

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; 8:35 pm May 24, 10:20 pm May 26, 5:10 pm May 27

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;JAWZ The Musical?

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;notco (Orlando)

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;Silver Venue / 60 min. / $10 / GA

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; Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the theater. Writer David Lee plays Chief Brody as a closet case in short pants, director Chad Lewis is the nebbish ichthyologist Hooper, and Joe Swanberg slurs out Robert Shaw–isms. Best of all, Anitra Pritchard chomps scenery as the interpretive-dancing Great White; she even gets a hysterically ear-piercing musical number. JAWZ? is 33 percent loving tribute to the film, 33 percent silly spoof on the Fringe, and 33 percent inexplicable Ibsen-ese; and that's not mentioning the Kabuki ninjas. It's tempting to be disappointed by the slapdash feel, coming from such a professional team, and it could use a few more songs. But the sense of under-rehearsed chaos is half the fun.

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; 6:30 pm May 25, 8 pm May 26, 2 pm May 27

arts@orlandoweekly.com

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