Arts & Culture » Visual Arts

But enough about me

First-person journeys through the absurd, the tiny, the troubled and surreal



Captain Discovery: The Edible Musical

9 p.m. Thursday, 9 p.m. Friday, 9 p.m. Saturday

The Holy Land Experience

Orange Venue
9:05 p.m. Thursday, 9:20 p.m. Saturday, 1 p.m. Sunday

Superman Drinks

Orange Venue
8:10 p.m. Wednesday, 5:45 p.m. Friday

Thom Pain (Based on Nothing)

Yellow Venue
9:10 p.m. Wednesday, 9:30 p.m. Thursday

At only 14 minutes, it takes less time to see Captain Discovery: The Edible Musical than it took to write this review. That’s probably for the best, since to see this ultra-low-budget puppet micro-musical, you’ll need to shove into Shakes’ tiny storage closet with up to a dozen strangers – claustrophobes, you’ve been warned. But if you can survive the stifling atmosphere, you’ll find more goofy theatrical wonder packed into Jeff Ferree’s candy-coated creation than in any five full-length Fringe spectaculars.

A plot synopsis is semi-pointless, since the show has barely enough time to introduce its warped Captain Video-esque children’s show milieu and camp-cliché heroes before it’s time to go. But Captain Discovery isn’t about storyline; it’s about the experience of being inside a sprinkle-doughnut dungeon and having a giant papier-mâché monster lick you with its inflatable tongue while colored Christmas lights flicker overhead. Ferree and his co-puppeteer Sophia Wise imbue their finger-powered protagonists with charming personality, and even the technical mishaps are DIY-delightful. Not every song in Randy Kemp’s soundtrack is a winner, but the lovesick ballad sung by an anatomically correct eyeball (voiced by Chasmin Hallyburton) has “hit” written all over it.

For the finale, the puppeteers poke their heads out from behind their pint-sized stage and present the audience with their own edible robot puppets, while a peppy songs exhorts them to consume their new pals. Though others hesitated to eat the adorable offering, I decapitated my marshmallow droid, swallowing his skull as he tried to scream. Now that’s what I call Fringe.

Here’s a handy international travel tip for you from Martin Dockery: When crossing the Canadian border to embark on a three-month performing tour of the Canuck Fringe festival circuit, don’t lie on your immigration form and claim you’re a tourist, because you may find yourself being interrogated by a suspicious customs inspector, and when she starts sifting through the snapshots on your digital camera, you’re going to have a hard time explaining that the pictures of a bloody man being beaten to death are just souvenirs from your stay at an Orlando theme park. And really, who needs that kind of hassle? Unless of course you’re looking for material for a terrific one-man show, in which case, go right ahead.

The Holy Land Experience, masterful storyteller Martin Dockery’s latest manic monologue, follows our narrator from last year’s Orlando Fringe – during which he visited the savior-centric tourist trap and got an attractive job offer from a faux Christ – to the real Holy Land, where he took a surprisingly sensual Christmas Eve pilgrimage to Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity. Whether he’s describing a crowd of 200 Pepsi-sipping spectators watching Jesus get his ass whipped by centurions (don’t worry, he’ll be back to sing a bitchin’ song as soon as the crucifixion is over) or the absurd ease with which self-proclaimed Catholics can cross between Israeli and Palestinian territories, Dockery delves into the silly and surreal that surrounds our craving for spirituality.

If you saw Wanderlust or The Bike Trip, Dockery’s previous Fringe hits, you know his hyperverbal schtick; with his burning eyes, wild gesticulation, shaggy hair and rail-skinny frame, Martin reminds me of that homeless guy off I-4 I’m scared to give spare change to. But unlike in his previous plays, this time Dockery takes an occasional breather from his breakneck rambling, revealing a greater focus and clarity of purpose behind his intensity. The fever pitch is still present, but now there’s stronger connective tissue between his tangled tangents.

With a few beautiful turns of phrase (“The wind is blowing so fast it’s possible to believe the world is picking up speed”) Dockery ends his tale with the gentle story of a lovelorn old man he met in a youth hostel, concluding on an uplifting and elegiac note. Dockery may still be an impulsive madman prone to reading High Times and sexual adventurism, but if this show is any indication, his walk in the footsteps of Jesus seems to have been good for his soul – or at least his scriptwriting.

What do Gilgamesh, Luke Skywalker and SEAL Team Six have in common with a convicted insurance fraudster? They are all classical heroes, at least according to Chase Padgett. The star of last year’s hit 6 Guitars radically shifts gears with Superman Drinks, an eloquent autobiographical monologue that eschews multiple fictionalized musical characters in favor of a deeply personal direct address to the audience.

Padgett’s soliloquy traces the mythological path of Joseph Campbell’s Hero With a Thousand Faces, illustrated by vignettes from Chase’s own troubled childhood as the son of successful businessman turned cocaine addict and ex-con. By exploring the hero’s journey in parallel with his father’s struggles – comparing his dad’s addictions to Tony “Iron Man” Stark’s alcoholism, for example – Padgett brings humor and empathy to an obviously painful tale. As an added bonus, you’ll learn about customized Stratocaster guitars, orphaned Disney princesses, and what to do if you’re abandoned outside a casino at age 4.

With the aid of co-writer and director Jay Hopkins, Padgett has created a pared-down but sophisticated performance, with liquid verbal pacing and minimal but impactful movement. I found this part-lecture/part-confessional engaging until the end, but I have two small qualms. One, though this stellar musician teases us by having guitars frame the stage throughout, he only plays one song, at the very end. Two, this intimate show is ill-suited to the roomy Orange venue; I’d rather see this up close and personal in Brown or Pink.

Picture, in your mind, a boy. He is wearing a cowboy outfit and lying in a puddle next to his dog, who has just been electrocuted. Now the boy is a youth, lying in a meadow, stung nearly to death by bees. The youth is now a man, lying in bed next to the woman he loves, who will leave him. Now the man is standing stiffly before you in a dark suit and skinny tie, telling you the definition of fear in a rapid-fire monotone. Now, don’t picture a pink elephant.

Are you confused? Unsettled? Vaguely annoyed? Or, are you, like, whatever? Good. You are now in the perfect frame of mind for Thom Pain (Based on Nothing), the gripping, confounding, valedictory performance from perennial Fringe presenter David Lee before his departure for New York City. With this production of Will Eno’s acclaimed 2005 absurdist monologue, Lee shatters the reputation for outrageous camp built by his past hits Hedwig, Pie-Face and Rigfried and Soy. Instead, standing on a nearly bare stage with close-cropped hair and horn-rimmed glasses, Lee looks like a cross between a Mormon missionary and the psychopathic engineer played by Michael Douglas in Falling Down – and his deadpan yet deeply felt delivery is twice as unnerving as either.

It’s impossible to give an accurate plot summary for Thom Pain; the intentionally frustrating script is a fragmented series of circular soliloquies about “this dead horse of a life that we beat,” broken up by borderline-hostile audience participation and fourth-wall-breaking breakdowns that would alienate even Artaud. The nearest comparison for this parade of ominous non sequiturs is Samuel Beckett’s monologue “Not I,” if it were recast as a standup routine. Thom Pain has a subtle, insidious humor (declaring “I’ll wait for the laughter to die down” when no one is laughing, coining the disturbing adage “love cankers all”) but it isn’t exactly a laugh-out-loud knee-slapper. Unlike some Fringe shows that leave you temporarily flush with good feelings that quickly fade away, Thom Pain’s parade of horribles handed me a disquieting sense of dread that still lingered a day later. The only thing more disturbing would be missing your chance to experience Lee, long among Orlando’s finest artists, in such an intense and unexpected role.

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