[Editor's note: We're at the Fringe Festival. For the next two weeks, we'll be checking out the amibitious, the weird, and the ugly offerings, and letting you know our thoughts. Be sure to also follow audience reviews as well a www.fringefestival.org.]
It’s worth going to RomCom-Con for the program handout alone. Each attendee gets a full-color brochure and map of a convention floor that includes the Annie (lecture) Hall, the 40-Year-Old Surgeon first-aid station, and the She’s All That and a Bag of Chips food court.
Kyle DeGoey — who wrote the songs and lyrics for this musical, with a book by Nathan Kelly and Kerri O’Halloran — was also behind 2015’s Oregon Trail: A Musical and 2016’s Gilligan: A Tropical Musical. His gag-a-measure songs are easy Fringe fun, and here they tell the story of Samantha (Erin Kennedy) and Will (Aaron Cook), who have a meet-cute at a convention devoted to the art of the romantic comedy.
This being a romantic comedy itself, of course, there have to be the obligatory best friends (Nimene Sierra Wureh and Drew Tenenbaum), who spark a romance of their own based on the fact that their preferred fandom is Star Wars. The villain is Brock (Edd Jones), who wears not an Izod polo shirt but the black robes and stringy ‘do of Severus Snape — because Brock won’t be convinced that Harry Potter isn’t essentially a rom-com.
RomCom-Con is better at celebrating the tropes of romantic comedy than at challenging them, so what’s by and large an entertaining show starts to get tedious when the climactic RomCom-Con Prom turns into an argument that real life is more complex than a rom-com. Of course it is: That’ s why we need the damn movies.
In a comedy thriller called The Buttslasher, it’s surprising that the most consistent gag has nothing to do with butts. Detective Heck Bills (Glen L. Dawson) has a drinking problem, and the problem is Smirnoff Ice. Playwright Andy Rakerd gets endless mileage out of constant references to the fact that Bills has been on Ice for years, neglecting the fact that he’s desperately needed on the mean streets of Stillwater.
There’s a villain on the loose: a mysterious figure who accosts local residents and slashes their butts. There have been actual buttslashers in the world, but they’ve been more furtive and less menacing than this show’s ninja-like malefactor whose victims include the playwright himself — dragging his butt off stage after an attack, his bare ass revealing the telltale red slash.
Buttslashing, though, turns out to be just a red derriere-ing in this saga about Bills, his sometime lover the barkeep (Dorothy Owen), a daughter (a hardboiled Stanzi Schalter) whose age keeps being revised upward, and a new young partner on the force (David Wasserman). It’s a typical bizzaro Fringe comedy, and one that’s funnier than most. Take that nudity warning seriously: a butt that’s met the business end of a red Sharpie is a sight you can’t unsee.
On the Exhale
The subterranean Rarig Xperimental stage, with bare rails lining an upper walkway, is appropriate for On the Exhale: it could be a prison, the mental prison a woman finds herself in when her young son becomes the victim of a school shooting.
Martín Zimmerman’s one-woman play, which premiered in New York just this year, is a stark drama, expertly performed by Jane Froiland under the direction of Lucas Skjaret. Standing on a bare stage, dressed in unassuming professional clothes to portray a young professor of women’s studies, Froiland holds the audience rapt with Zimmerman’s technically precise but emotionally raw monologue.
The first half of the show has Froiland’s unnamed character recounting the circumstances of the shooting, which recalls the tragedy at Sandy Hook. In the second half, the show takes an unexpected and ultimately suspenseful turn as the mourning mother develops a dark fascination with the very weapon that took her son’s life.
On the Exhale is a fascinating examination of America’s gun culture that focuses on what it feels like to be in command of the means of mass murder. It’s a sensation, the woman observes, weirdly akin to parenting: when you hold a loaded gun, you hold another human being’s life in your hands. At the end of this taut, intelligent show, you’ll need to take a deep breath yourself.
Live from New York...He’s a Prom Date!
Jen Maren, a local actor who’s recently won justified acclaim for her lead performance in the History Theatre’s Glensheen, has one of those stories you’ve got to hear. It’s the true tale of how, when she was 16, she flew to New York to be matched with a prom date on the Sally Jessy Raphael show.
Yes, there’s video. Live from New York’s title is inspired by the phrase with which Maren and her awkward Long Island date were announced when he flew in for her prom in Red Wing. The whole thing was her mom’s idea, and at heart the show is the poignant story of a high-maintenance theater kid (that very year she was cast as Maria in The Sound of Music, as was duly noted on national TV) whose mother just wants to do anything in her power to make her happy.
It’s also a behind-the-scenes look at daytime talk TV in the late 20th century, a landscape that was somehow both empowering and degrading. Maren describes how the guests on her show were asked to quickly sign confusing contracts, and then forced into humiliating roles — one mother, a former teen queen, was made to appear in robe and tiara to emphasize the distance between herself and her dateless daughter.
Working with writer Peter Simmons and director Lee H. Adams, Maren has crafted a show that’ s undeniably fascinating, if a little overstuffed — the literal song-and-dance leaves us thinking, "We get it, you were Maria." Still, it’s a great story and a fun show. Her mother must be proud.