3 acts to catch at the Capital Fringe Festival
By Nelson Pressley,
It unfurls all over again Thursday, the swarming arts and humanity carnival that is the Capital Fringe Festival.
The anything-goes event is in its seventh summer season, headquartered for the last time in the ramshackle compound on Sixth and New York Avenue NW. (Next year’s new digs will be announced soon.) You know it by the beer tent and the hive of patrons thumbing through the fat guide of 130 theater/comedy/music/dance/experimental/novelty acts in 15 venues over 18 days.
The artists come from here, there, everywhere. Some bring long-honed skills; others are taking a first shot. There are hundreds of stories in the naked city that is the Fringe. These are three of them.
It’s been a long road home for Ron Litman. And now that he’s back, the wiry 62-year-old actor, who can boast of a terrific notice from the New York Times, is hauling trash for a living.
Litman’s Fringe show, “D.C. Trash,” is about the job he’s been working since 2009. Litman’s history here goes back to his adolescence working in his parents’ delicatessen on Wisconsin Avenue; he went to Wilson High School and American University.
“You can’t get more homey than that,” Litman declares with a sharp laugh, sitting in the townhouse near New Jersey and Rhode Island avenues NW that he rents from his cousin.
Right out of college he joined Living Stage, then in its heyday as Arena Stage’s outreach troupe, which created theater with and for all kinds of people in need. He migrated to New York, toured internationally with Marketa Kimbrell’s New York Street Theater Caravan and acted at the legendary La MaMa E.T.C. In 1985, he got that gush from the Times for his one-man “On a Clear Day You Can See Armageddon”: “One of the fiercest — and one of the funniest — political satires since ‘Dr. Strangelove’ learned to love the bomb.”
In 1990, Litman went to L.A. The database IMDB kicks out minor screen credits such as “Customer #2” in “Married With Children” and “Tool Box DJ” in “Wayne’s World 2.” He waves it off as junk. What mattered was that he got married and had two kids. The family moved to Wisconsin in 2003 so Litman’s wife could be near her family. But Litman didn’t know what to do with himself in La Crosse.
“It just blew my mind,” says Litman, who is so forged in the counterculture fires of the 1960s and 1970s that he comes across as a caffeinated Howard Hesseman. (Litman was actually in a movie with Hesseman, 2001’s “The Sky Is Falling.”) “I mean, I don’t fit in, period. But at least in big cities, I don’t stand out. There it was difficult.”
In 2005, he sank his teeth into the mighty role of Salieri in “Amadeus” at the local University of Wisconsin campus. But generally, work was scarce, the marriage was over and he was adrift, except for his connection with his children. When his cousin, who runs Tenleytown Trash, called offering a job, he knew he had to take it.
“The first couple of months were tough,” Litman says. “It’s gettin’ up at 5 a.m., and it ain’t easy work.”
A few months ago, he found himself hauling away the concrete fountain from the Fringe’s patio. Sniffing an opportunity, he asked Fringe Executive Director Julianne Brienza when applications were due. End of the week, she said.
So now the show goes on, with Litman hitting a stage for the first time in four years. He talks with a bred-in-the-bone street performer’s edge; the samples of song and shtick he offers from his couch are searingly intense, even at low volume. And his bent is plainly political, with a savage attack — “I do know that I’m stepping out on a limb,” he says — that will surely be on display during parts of “D.C. Trash.” (No spoilers here.)
Naturally, he’d like his old career back, and he has auditioned for local theaters. “But talk about gaps,” he says. “They’ll look at my résumé and go, What have you done for me lately?”
“D.C. Trash” will begin to explain.
Postscript: After chatting, Litman e-mailed: “Everything in my house, from the couch we sat on to the tables and everything else except the photos on the walls, came from the trash or cleaning out houses of dead people. No s---.”
If you look up ‘Fringe’
Buy a ticket to Brian Feldman’s “BFF,” and you will be the entire audience. It’s a two-hour one-on-one hangout. Anything could happen. Almost.
“If somebody says, ‘I want to go to the Renaissance Hotel and get a room,’ ” Feldman says, “I’d probably draw a line there.”
The recent Florida transplant isn’t likely to be treating audiences to four-star dinners, either, though he doesn’t seem very hung up on the ground rules. The 32-year-old’s trademark is working way out of bounds, concocting high-concept projects that can be quirky and/or pointed.
Take getting married, which Feldman did not long ago as a real and legal act. The idea was to dramatize how preposterously easy it is for straight people to get hitched; he thought of it at a party with gay friends ineligible for marriage despite being in a committed relationship for nearly 20 years.
Feldman promoted the idea and set a date. Three women showed up at the courthouse, ready to take his hand. Spin the bottle determined the winner.
“Thankfully, it wasn’t the woman with the baby strapped to her chest,” says the slender Feldman, eating a healthy-looking sandwich in a downtown coffee shop. (He’s been vegan ever since a brief day job — not a conceptual project — dishwashing at a chain restaurant.) “I married a perfectly fine participant-wife.”
He seems super-easygoing — soft voice, charming grin — and looks boyish in one of his late grandfather’s Guayabera shirts and a newsboy cap. Photos of his copious projects reveal that Feldman’s hair is gone on top and that he used to have a shaggy beard. “That was kind of my shtick,” he says.
His family moved to Orlando to be near Disney, and Feldman’s bar mitzvah was held at the resort’s Grand Floridian hotel. Even then, he was thinking about how to make art: Could he sell tickets for people to watch his family have dinner on stage?
Eventually he did, after his mother survived breast cancer (a scare that chased him home from a brief stint in L.A.). Other projects include smiling for three hours, which an Orlando arts patron told him “looked worse than Guantanamo.” In a companion piece, he also cried for three hours. He did a show where he danced behind closed doors — no admittance. He did a show as a men’s room attendant.
A lot of this was done at the Orlando Fringe “really just to shake things up and make the Fringe fringier,” Feldman says. Last year, he held the Feldman Awards, perversely handing out best-of prizes at the beginning of the festival.
Stunts? Well, yeah. But the influences he cites in passing — art world darling Marina Abramovic, playwright Neil Simon, cutup Mel Brooks — suggest method as well as whimsy.
He’s enough of an actor that he’s been in shows, done film and TV work as an extra, and once auditioned for Julliard in front of Michael Kahn. He moved here in February to be with his girlfriend (the marriage mentioned earlier was annulled, by the way) and is staying to live and work even though the relationship didn’t pan out.
No telling what rabbits Feldman will try to pull out of his hat in D.C. He was inspired by Anne Washburn’s recent “Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play” at Woolly Mammoth, but he usually stays at arm’s length from traditional theater, finding much of it too disconnected.
“I’ve gotta do something that no one else in the world can do,” Feldman explains. “Or would ever want to do.”
“Brian Feldman is one of the most weird artists in the world,” gushes Yanomi, the Japanese performer of “A Day in the Life of Miss Hiccup.” She met Feldman at the 2010 Orlando Fringe when, between her own performances of “Hiccup,” she bought a ticket to his overnight camping excursion, “Fringe of Nature.”
“He is genius,” she declares.
“Miss Hiccup,” her Capital Fringe debut, is a solo clown show with music featuring Yanomi in a costume and wig bedecked with flowers. It has been received as gentle and cheerful, which is how Yanomi sounds when she calls and announces, “It’s Yanomi, yay!”
She is 36 and says simply after disclosing her age, “I’m a girl.” She has performed on the U.S. West Coast and at fests across Canada, where she has done Fringes practically coast to coast since playing Montreal in 2007.
“That changed my life,” Yanomi says by phone from Montreal, wrapping up a run of her comic “My Exploding Family” with two Japanese colleagues. Cheap Fringe tickets allowed her to see more shows than she would typically be able to catch in Tokyo.
“And I made a lot of great artist friends,” she says. “It’s really exciting to know other artists from all over the world.”
Yanomi (real name Hiromi Yano) grew up on the southern island of Kyushu but was drawn to acting and the big lights of Tokyo after college. In 2000, she latched on with a Tokyo troupe. In 2006, she began performing mainly nonverbal work — it hops over the language barrier — in a Tokyo bar run by a westerner with a largely Western clientele.
“I love comedy, music and beer so much,” she explains.
Her company name, Shoshinz, means timid or shy people. “Timid people sometimes are kind of sensitive,” Yanomi says. “There are a lot of funny small things in the world, I think.”
Recently, she toured Japan’s tsunami-stricken area, where she was hit by the widespread devastation and lack of color in the landscape. Her bright costume stood out, with women and girls especially drawn like bees to her flowery look.
“Most people lost their houses and family and friends,” Yanomi says. “Such a sad story. But they said, Come back!”
Surely Yanomi will. Has act, will travel.
Fort Fringe-Bedroom, 612 L St. NW, July 12, 14, 22 and 28.
departs from Fort Fringe box office, 607 New York Ave. NW, July 12-29.
“A Day in the Life of Miss Hiccup,”
B103 at Mt. Vernon United Methodist Church, 900 Massachusetts Ave. NW,
July 12, 14, 15, 17, 19 and 21.
For daily updates on Capital Fringe happenings, visit wapo.st/style_blog.
For daily listings, go to wapo.st/fringe12.
Tickets are $17 per show. Patrons must also make a one-time $7 purchase of a Fringe button, which must be worn to all shows.