The 101 unique shows that made up 2013’s Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival are winding down (awwww). Sunday, May 26, is your last day to see shows, but if you’re still wondering where to spend your ticket dollars, we’re here to help. On these pages, we’ve selected seven of our reviewers’ top picks of the festival so far. Of course, Fringe-goers should keep an eye on our ongoing coverage at orlandoweekly.com, photos.orlandoweekly.com and blogs.orlandoweekly.com, where we’ve posted almost 50 reviews, along with coverage of the free outdoor stage, the Visual Fringe warehouse, Kids Fringe and more. – Jessica Bryce Young
HITLER’S LI’L ABOMINATION
through Saturday, May 25 | Pink Venue | orlandofringe.org | $10
When a show is titled Hitler’s Li’l Abomination, you feel kind of weird telling people “I loved it! It reminded me of all my relatives!” But if you grew up among Germans – especially ones who were only a few years removed from the Old Country – you’ll be beside yourself with nostalgic laughter as monologist Annette Roman impersonates and then deconstructs that side of her family. (A particular bull’s-eye: The Germans, she points out, are the only people on Earth who can talk and inhale simultaneously.)
To be fair, Roman has more raw material to work with than us garden-variety Amerikrauts. Her mother wasn’t just German, but an alumnus of the Hitler Youth for Girls. Meanwhile, her father was a Hungarian Jew who narrowly survived the death camps. And he went on to be the disciplinarian in the family. Listen, if NBC could come up with anything this good, they’d be beating QVC on Thursday nights.
Abomination would be worth your time even if Roman stopped at making fun of her unique background. She doesn’t. On a more serious note, she demonstrates how that background has influenced her adult relationships – including her relationship with 21st-century American society itself, which is quick to use Nazism as a cheap, lazy metaphor yet barely comprehends its true implications.
Against all odds, Roman offers a fairly fresh perspective on the age-old question “Can we ever really learn from history?” If you’re in the market for such a perspective, listen closely for the ghosts of generations’ worth of Tantes and Omas: They’re floating just outside the Pink Venue, beckoning, “In here, Liebchen! In here!” – Steve Schneider
KEY OF E
through Saturday, May 25 | Green Venue | orlandofringe.org | $11
Key of E, the apocalyptic “junk rock” musical by Orlando musician Andy Matchett (of local band the Minks) and actor-writer Corey Volence, promises to “have it all,” and for once at the Fringe there’s truth in advertising. Shadow puppets, rage monsters, imaginary girlfriends, kick-ass rock & roll and more are all packed into this passionate (if slightly unpolished) 60-minute production.
Ethan (Volence) is a misanthropic barfly who eagerly awaits a calamity to give Etch-a-Sketch Earth a good shake, until the end of the world actually arrives. A wrath-of-Al-Gore tsunami flushes Florida away, leaving Ethan stranded on a Walmart-waste-strewn desert island with a handful of fellow Losties. Matchett shows up as the smartass narrator who spoils the show’s Fight Club twist early on: Ethan is actually alone, and his castaway companions are only figments of his fractured psyche. Ethan says he’d “rather be Mad Max than Walt Disney,” but he’s going to have to confront his antisocial addictions (personified by a towering, bony-fingered puppet, provided by the mad geniuses behind Dog Powered Robot) if he’s going to leave this Waterworld wasteland behind.
If you’ve ever thought, “What the world needs now is a nice solid plague,” this sharp-tongued show is for you. Matchett’s pop pastiches and power ballads are hummably hooky, though an inconsistent microphone mix (par for the course at Fringe) and sketchy ensemble harmonies make hash of some rapid-fire lyrics. Volence commands the room – and blows its doors off – with dynamic desperation and dynamite rock-god delivery. Apocalypse, according to Ethan, equals revelation amid death and destruction; Key of E reveals a potentially powerful new musical inside a slightly rough-hewn shell. If the world is going to end anyway, I just hope that when it does it rocks this hard. – Seth Kubersky
JETT BACKPACK AND THE BATTLE AT THE END OF THE UNIVERSE
through Saturday, May 25 | Yellow Venue | orlandofringe.org | $10
Some come to Fringe for weighty provocations, and some come to see a great performance. Others come simply for the guilty pleasure of watching actors make fabulous fools of themselves, while listening to William Shatner destroy David Bowie’s “Space Oddity.” If you’re the latter undiscriminating, deranged individual and have a penchant for bad sci-fi, your mind may just be blown by Yes/And Theatre Company’s Jett Backpack and the Battle at the End of the Universe.
After the “Earth Itself” is kidnapped by a gang of over-the-top, out-of-this-world interstellar idiots, only Jett Backpack and his equally bumbling yet enthusiastic do-gooders can save the day – or something like that. After all, writer Josh Geoghagan’s plot, though half-baked, matters little when you’re mashing together Star Wars, Star Trek and Flash Gordon, and giving it the campy, low-budget look of Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.
John Bateman plays the title role, but it’ll likely be Jennifer Guhl (as Captain Clementine Cardigan), David Almeida in delicious drag (as Jett’s mother, Galaxia Randolph) and especially Kevin Sigman (as the Emperor of the End of the Universe) who will beam you up the best. In fact, Sigman rules his Klingon-y kingdom so well that not even busty beauty Dorothy Massey (as the Emperor’s daughter, Princess Positronic) can rekindle the energy that’s lost following his ouster from power by the Sinister Dr. Saurian, a “dinosaur scientist” played with reptilian relish but not enough refinement by Stephen Lima.
Amateurish and flat at times – almost in the style of the movies it’s spoofing – Jett is helped along by Kevin Becker’s fast-paced direction, C.J. Smith’s appropriately B-movie props, Massey’s kooky costumes, and a lack of pretension. Jett may be the closest you’ll get to blastoff at this year’s Fringe without having to take your protein pills and put your helmet on. – Cameron Meier
GOD IS A SCOTTISH DRAG QUEEN
through Sunday, May 26 | Yellow Venue | orlandofringe.org | $11
I have seen God. And I’m elated to report that He’s everything we always hoped He would be.
First of all, He’s a brilliant stand-up comedian with a wicked sense of humor (as you may have already surmised from the way your life has turned out since high school). For another, He is indeed omniscient, bursting with deep insight into everything from the history of recorded music to the failings of the Lynx bus system. Oh, and He’s also a hairy-legged Scotsman dressed in a floral women’s “power suit” from the 1980s. OK, that last part wasn’t all that predictable – but in hindsight, doesn’t it seem to explain a whole buncha stuff?
Listen, enough of me being cute. What you really want to know is that comic Mike Delamont’s God trip is one of the greatest stand-up performances I’ve heard in my 48 years on this planet. No hyperbole. I’m talking split-your-sides, clap-your-hands-raw, point-furiously-with-your-forefinger hilarious.
The whole setup is genius to begin with, as it allows Delamont to go just about anywhere: When he discusses his (I mean His) role in creation, it’s fresh and exciting because he’s a potty-mouthed Scotsman in drag; when he shifts to more mundane topics like the foolhardiness of bungee jumping, it’s still fresh and exciting because … well, because he’s God. Think George Burns crossed with Dame Edna, then pin the Virtuoso Meter all the way to the right.
Delamont is smart enough to recognize the essential spiritual sweetness at the heart of his routine, and he trusts us to perceive it, too. So in the show’s unavoidable “message” segment, he knows he doesn’t have to go too far with serious sentiment before pulling back into yet another world-class, room-slaying punchline.
You’ll hope the hour never ends. In fact, you might find yourself wishing you would die right there, so you could be with God forever. The good news is that you’ll be laughing so hard you just might. – SS
THE BOY WHO STOLE THE SUN
through Sunday, May 26 | Black Venue, 511 Virginia Drive | orlandofringe.org | $11
From the moment the violinist took the stage, I knew I was in for a treat. The Boy Who Stole the Sun chronicles the exploits of a prepubescent young man beginning to find his footing in the world. In Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life, Jimmy Stewart charmed his lady friend by saying he’d lasso the moon and give it to her. The protagonist of this living storybook trumps Stewart’s famous flirtation: He actually manages to steal the sun from the heavens. He achieves said feat by besting the sun in combat (or rather, an Eric Clapton-esque personification of the sun) – not bad for an 11-year-old.
The ramifications of his foolish deed bring turmoil to those close to him and he begins to digest a serious lesson about causality. His guilt is exacerbated after he’s visited by the sun’s lover, the moon, during his slumber. The dreams, albeit tumultuous for the protagonist, enhance the sense of wonder for the rest of us.
Wonderment is bountiful in this summertime show, largely due to the set pieces and a skilled band of musicians. There was a standing ovation by a full house after the opening performance. Be sure to make this show a priority on your must-see
list. – Audrey Bergquist
through Sunday, May 26 | Green Venue | orlandofringe.org | $11
Every year at Fringe I encounter a fantastical freakshow of physical theater to fall in love with, like Miss Hiccup (who returns to the Festival this year), Poofy Du Vey or Schave & Reilly. This time around, Portland, Ore.’s Wonderheads won my Fringe Crush fealty with their touching triumph, Loon.
When we first meet Francis (Kate Braidwood), he’s trying futilely to spread his beloved late mother’s ashes in the rain, only to smear them on his shabby suit. Slogging back to his lonely apartment, which literally fits inside a suitcase, Francis spends his time mopping movie-theater floors and waiting hopefully for the connection from his telephone dating service (where he’s Bachelor No. 378: favorite color, plaid; talents, none) that never comes.
If this were the plot of a conventional play, it would be hideously depressing. But because Francis wears a giant, bulbous, balding mask-head and communicates solely through gestures and movements, his plight becomes pathetically endearing instead of simply morose. Inspired by the sci-fi comic books he finds comfort in, Francis eventually abandons uncaring reality and climbs to the heavens, retrieving the moon to be his mistress. It’s hard to have a long-term relationship with a celestial object, though, and despite their whirlwind romance she inevitably wanes.
Loon bathes its audience in the purest magic of imaginative theater, needing little more than the movement of a simple glowing orb to make viewers gasp with childlike delight. Whether slouching, swaggering or slipping into a brief and unexpected Bollywood dance break, Braidwood’s body language is so expressive that Francis’ frozen countenance actually seems to change. My only regret is recommending this show in my preview to families with small children. While there is nothing offensive or objectionable in it, the dark emotions explored are definitely intended for adults, and I’m not ashamed to admit Loon’s bittersweet ending brought me to tears. Not to be missed. – SK
CHASE AND PAUL: SOLO SHOWS ARE HARD
through Saturday, May 25 | Gold Venue, 2113 N. Orange Ave. | orlandofringe.org | $11
Chase Padgett and Paul Strickland are both Fringe veterans who generally perform their music and stand-up comedy acts alone. This year, they decided to join forces, since, well, Solo Shows Are Hard. Luckily for the audience, the synergy works wonders. Together, they’re actually more than twice as good as they are separately.
Both performers are talented songwriters as well as proficient guitar players. And both display welcome flashes of acerbic and self-deprecating humor, playing their comic riffs off one another as if they’ve been honing their act for years, and not just during the one week leading up to their debut Fringe performance together. The icing on the cake comes when the duo performs the rare serious musical piece – their plaintive harmonies are immensely pleasing.
These two guys may have found the perfect collaborator in one another, because as a team they put on a great show. Perhaps this impromptu alliance marks the beginning of a very productive partnership. – Al Krulick