Cuddly ‘Monster Songs’ from married musicians at Fringe


Singer-songwriter Toby Mulford, right, and cellist Rachel Spicknall Mulford star in “The Monster Songs” at the Capital Fringe Festival. (Courtesy Dr. Dour and Peach)

Can you be sinister and winsome at the same time? Yes, if you are a married couple skilled at clowning and music, and you put together a droll 45 minutes’ worth of ambitious yet kid-friendly tunes.

This is “The Monster Songs” at the Capital Fringe Festival’s Gearbox, and it comes from Toby Mulford and Rachel Spicknall Mulford, regulars with the D.C. commedia dell’arte troupe Faction of Fools. He plays the slightly severe Dr. Dour, who egotistically presumes he’s the natural center of attention. She plays Peach, the chipper assistant whose warm smile counters Dour’s pallid, powdered face.

What’s unexpected is the Mulfords’ choice of instruments. He plays a complicated 10-string touch guitar — “touch” meaning it’s played with the “hammer on” technique, like a keyboard. (He also handles most of the vocals.) She plays cello, and for one song, a banjo. The music that emerges has light, deep tones that are perfect for the larks that Toby Mulford composed.

The idea is that Dour is, in his words, “an ethno-crypto-zoo-musicologist,” specializing in the study of monsters. There’s a lilting stomp-kick waltz, a tune about a pair of famous fairy tale brother and sister, and a delightfully tart number involving zombies and retail.

They weren’t always on top of their game during the Saturday afternoon performance, which had its musical and comedic fits and starts. But that winsomeness is potent, and they finished strong (although Dour announced that he doubted they could) with a whimsical Western number that was amusing and smart.

The Monster Songs

Four more performances from Tuesday to July 27 at Gearbox, 1021 Seventh St. NW, third floor. Visit capitalfringe.org.

First Post byline, 1992; covering theater for the Post since 1999. His book "American Playwriting and the Anti-Political Prejudice" came out in 2014.

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