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More Capital Fringe Fun

July 16, 2012

July in Washington DC is the perfect month for a Fringe Festival. It's unbearably hot and muggy outside and much more blissful to be indoors experiencing weird and wonderful performances.

I attended two Capital Fringe shows yesterday which were both very different. One of them, pictured, was a conceptual dance piece entitled Colony. It involved a pair of dancers in prison colony stripes. When the audience entered the odd-shaped room at the downtown Fringe venue called "Caos on F," the performers were running on the spot, rhythmically and perfectly in synch, against a dirge-like and slightly sinister-sounding electronic music background.

The piece felt in some ways like a Steve Reich piece -- the dancers movements changed very slightly, always together, in incremental ways. At one point, I'd be watching them, almost in a trance, as there arms pumped backwards and forwards infront of their faces; a moment later, their arms were above their heads. The change happened perfectly between them. I felt like I was watching strange, pre-programmed drones.

The robotic quality also came across in the deadpan way that the performers occasionally and in monotonous voices, sang a line from "I wanna be loved by you," the the song that Marilyn Monroe made famous in Some Like It Hot, and "Singular Sensation" from A Chorus Line. This was a strange chorus line indeed. The performers' moves and voices seemed completely de-sexualized in some ways, yet the way in which they lingered on certain syllables and stared intently at individual audience members while saying "I'm in love with you" was deeply carnal.

I'm not sure what the piece adds up to, but it is both eerie and hypnotic.

The other show I saw yesterday was a solo piece by Dylan Fresco, a storyteller from Minneapolis. Entitled Domino's Pizza Saved My Life, Fresco's piece combined guitar-strummed songs and a spiraling yarn that took us from the storyteller's teenage exchange program with Cold War Russia to the 2008 Republican Convention in Saint Paul, MN.

Fresco has an amazing tenor voice (which more than makes up for his not-quite-as-beautiful guitar playing) and an endearing personality so I felt engaged with him throughout. I could listen to him sing songs in Russian and Ladino (the language of the Iberian Jews) all day and night.

But the story itself wasn't always compelling and there's something about the solo show storytelling format that feels quite stale and old to me -- the way in which performers try to sound chatty and natural, like they're telling you about their lives in a bar over a beer, when really it's the most artificial of situations and you're being forced to sit there and listen to a very one-sided "conversation" for an hour.

I think Fresco was trying to make some overall point about how people from different social, linguistic and national backgrounds can reach a mutual understanding with such anecdotes about his grandfather's immigration from Turkey in the early part of the 20th century and his own narrative about learning Russian. But this didn't seem like a very interesting message overall.

I did however, love the final story about Fresco finding himself in a Domino's Pizza refrigerator with a bunch of strangers as the tear gas reigned down on protesters in St Paul at the Republican Convention. It was quirky and made Fresco's point about people from different walks of life coming together more succinctly and humorously than all of his other stories put together.

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